County ramps up response for covid-19
March 19, 2020
Schools, other closures mandated
Limits placed on groups
Life as we know it is changing, and local health officials are joining those across the state, nation and world in clamping down on activities to slow the spread of the covid-19 virus.
Washington state is a west coast hot spot for the virus which moved from animal to humans in China and has now been classified as a worldwide pandemic.
There have yet been no cases in Wahkiakum County. Three people are awaiting the results of tests, and another two have come back negative for the disease, Chris Bischoff, director of Wahkiakum County Health and Human services said Tuesday.
"The number of cases in Washington state will continue to rise significantly in the next three to four weeks," Bischoff said. "Models are not exact, but indicate we could have 20,000 cases by early April. [The state Department of Health reported 1,012 case in the state on Tuesday. --editor}
"As cases continue to increase, it is my feeling that the governor will continue to announce new restrictions similar to where Italy is now. I fully expect basic services to function normally into the future, so that is electricity, gas, water, grocery stores, etc. I fully expect that grocery stores will continue to stay open with probably some limitations like potentially curbside pickup only. Supply chains and manufacturing for necessary items like toilet paper and food will continue to run for the duration."
Facing the rapid growth in the number of cases, officials are taking steps to slow the spread so that hospitals aren't overwhelmed with patients.
Since Friday, Governor Jay Inslee has ended limited visits to nursing homes and senior citizen residential centers; schools are closed; there is a two-week ban on any food or beverage service, regardless of location, that provides or allows on-site consumption; they may only provide take-out service.
The ban includes entertainment, leisure and non-essential services such as theaters, bowling alleys, gyms and fitness centers, non-tribal card rooms, museums, art galleries, tattoo parlors, barbers, hair salons and nail salons.
The ban doesn't apply to grocery stores and pharmacies.
Also, college and higher education campus dining halls are banned from providing on-site dining, but they may provide take-out and delivery options. On-site food service and other related activities are permitted for childcare services and school-based food programs for K-12 schools.
Officials are also stressing what they call "social distancing," essentially keeping a six-foot space between persons.
Businesses are expected to ensure adequate environmental cleaning of stores and must designate an employee or officer to implement a social distancing plan for their business.
All gatherings with over 50 participants are prohibited. Smaller gatherings are banned unless criteria from the CDC for public health and social distancing are met.
Local governmental bodies are adapting their protocols to limit potential covid-19 contact.
Wahkiakum PUD and the Town of Cathlamet have closed their offices to the public. People may make arrangements to meet by phoning the offices.
Wahkiakum County commissioners on Tuesday voted to control access. Some services will be available by appointment. People should call the department they need to do business with to discuss how to proceed.
"The Cathlamet and Johnson Park Community Centers are now closed to the public," Bischoff said. "Senior lunches that normally occur on Thursday will be pickup only."
People shouldn't get out of their cars to pick up those meals, he said.
"COVID spreads like the flu," Bischoff said. "Unlike the flu, we have no medical or genetic stops to the spread. The only way to arrest the spread of COVID now is these mandatory social distancing measures. Due to how this spreads, any actions we take now will take 2-3 weeks to show results. The actions that have been taken statewide and locally over this weekend will not slow the number of new positive results for 2-3 weeks."
For further information, see the health department's website, http://www.wahkiakumcovid19.com.
Another update: Health officials say the virus can live hours or even days on different surfaces, not the 3-5 hours originally believed. For further information, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov