As of Wednesday morning, the coronavirus had claimed 10 victims in Washington state: nine deaths from 31 cases in King County, and one death from among eight cases in Snohomish County.
But, said Mark Smith, president and CEO of MultiCare Auburn Medical Center, “it is not the Black Death, it is not the plague, it is not the Spanish flu. It is meaningful, but it’s not something to freak out over.”
Smith was among the members of the mayor’s new task force on COVID-19 who came to the Auburn Senior Center to develop and coordinate the community’s response to the outbreak, alongside representatives of the Auburn School District, the Outlet Collection, the faith-based community, Green River College, the Auburn-Area Chamber of Commerce, police and firefighters and others.
Tyler Turner, planning section chief for Auburn’s Department of Emergency Management, said the local response is taking its cues not from the wild, wild west of social media but from the two most reliable sources on the rapidly evolving COVID-19 outbreak — Seattle King County Public Health and the Washington State Department of Health.
Because it’s vital, Turner said, that people have go-to sources they can trust.
“The general American public is unlikely to be exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 at this time, Turner said, quoting information derived from the state and King County. “So, the immediate health risk is considered low at this time, regardless of what you read on the media and what not.”
“Everything that we’ve been hearing is that we are going to see more cases. … The question is, how prepared are we going to be when we start seeing cases crop up more and more?” said Jerry Thorson, director of the city’s department of emergency management.
The city of Auburn has inventoried its emergency supplies, and last year adopted an update to its comprehensive plan for emergency management with a new section called “Pandemic Influenza Plan.”
”While we don’t want to whip people into a frenzy, we do want to make sure that we are up-to-date on our information at all times,” said Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus. “We want to encourage caution but not frenzy. “
Smith said MAMC has not seen any cases – yet. But too many people have been showing at the hospital in the last week with one particular wrong idea in mind, and it’s taxing vital resources.
“We don’t want to tell people to stay away if they need genuine medical care, but what we have already seen – and we’ll see more of it – is that people are coming because they want to be tested,” Smith said. “That’s not going to happen. I need to be very, very clear on that. The Center for Disease Control, the state Department of Health and King County Public Health have explicitly-detailed criteria for who qualifies for testing. Shoreline, which is where the tests are being conducted right now, has the capacity at present of doing about 350 tests per day.”
The CDC’s criteria: a fever with severe, acute, lower respiratory illness requiring hospitalization and without an alternate, explanatory diagnosis; close contact with any person who has had a laboratory-confirmed diagnosis within 14 days; and a history of travel to affected geographic areas.
Feeling poorly, by itself, Smith said, does not qualify.
“So, people will be disappointed if they come to the emergency room expecting to be ruled out, cleared. I understand that’a real human need; people want to have certainty. We can’t provide it to them. We don’t have power over the testing; we have no authority to determine who will be tested, and who will not. In fact, before a person (should) be tested, we need to call Seattle-King County Public Health,” Smith said.
Paul Strom, a battalion chief for the Valley Regional Fire Authority, said one issue the VRFA is looking at now is what would happen if the agency had to go quarantine and was left with only a skeleton crew.
“If we’re not providing services, who is? Those are kind of the policy things we’re working on right now,” Strom said.
Radine Lozier, executive director of the Auburn Senior Center, shared what she has learned.
“News comes at such a fast pace right now, “Lozier said, “and people hear the same story over and over and over, and seniors tend to watch (the news) at great length. … So just calming (the seniors) is so important because they are scared.”
On Monday, the Auburn School District reached out to parents to inform them that the district has no plans at this time to close its schools for cleaning as numerous districts have done in response to the rapidly-evolving situation.
Superintendent Alan Spicciati said the district will continue to follow the advice and direction of the health department when it comes to any possible closures, and will keep parents updated as needed via a regularly-updated website.
Spicciati noted that the district encourages any staff member or student who is ill to stay home.
Rhonda Larson, assistant superintendent of Family Engagement and Student Success for the school district. said ASD been working hard to ensure it has a district-wide, emergency operations system in place.
“…We have some students coming to school with masks,” Larson said, adding that the district’s lead nurse has been “helping the schools understand why we want to have conversations with people with masks, like – ‘Are you wearing a mask to keep yourself safe or do you feel like you have some symptoms that we need to be able to connect with resources?’”