Whatcom County Prepares for Coronavirus Emergency

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The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has reached Whatcom County and the County Council has allotted a quarter-million dollars for an emergency response.

County Executive Satpal Sidhu declared a public health emergency on March 10, 2020 after the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) confirmed a case of COVID-19 in a Whatcom County resident.

The individual is a woman in her 60’s who received medical care at PeaceHealth St. Joseph’s Medical Center, and had no known international travel history according to the Department of Health (DOH). Her condition improved and she was discharged, and since that time she has been self-isolated at home.

Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood has also declared a public health emergency for the city.

The declarations will allow city and county government departments to quickly enter into contracts to combat emergency situations to protect the health and safety of persons and provide appropriate emergency assistance to victims.

Executive Sidhu says declaring a public health emergency could give the county “better leeway” on prices for medical supplies, and “elevates the level of readiness of our public health infrastructure.”

“Our message to the public is simple: plan and prepare, but don’t panic,” Sidhu said. “By following the advice of experts, you can help protect your family, friends, co-workers and our community at large.”

On March 10, the county council voted to set aside $250,000 from the 2020 budget general fund to pay for a COVID-19 emergency response.

(Video of March 10 County Council meeting)

The budget request states: “Employee absences may result in the need for unbudgeted overtime and extra help, technology expenses may increase, and other expenses may be required.” This action will ensure adequate and appropriate preparation is not limited by insufficient budget authority. Sidhu says the money will likely be reimbursed by the state or federal government.

On March 12, the Lummi Public Health Dept. announced a confirmed case of COVID-19 in an individual who resides in King County and works for the Lummi Indian Business Council. The department said it will “work closely with King County and Whatcom County officials to track any affected individuals.”

The Lummi Public Health Dept. says “there are likely other undiscovered COVID-19 cases,” and strongly recommends that tribal members cancel all travel outside of Whatcom County, and for those that do travel, to self-quarantine for up to 14 days.

Also on March 12, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee announced that all schools in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties will close from Tuesday, March 17 through Friday, April 24. The decision was made to control the spread of COVID-19 in the Washington counties hit hardest by the virus, according to the governor.

UPDATED: Bellingham Public Schools are closed effective March 16th through April 24th, 2020, until further notice.

Dr. Greg Stern, Whatcom County Health Officer, has also issued new recommendations to slow the spread of COVID-19. He now recommends that people avoid non-essential gatherings or large groups of 10-50 or more people, as much as possible. The Whatcom County Health Dept. web site is being updated frequently with the latest recommendations.

Councilmember Carol Frazey thanked the Health Dept. staff for working overtime to prepare the emergency response.

Councilmember Tyler Byrd urged citizens to follow the new recommendations. “Do your best to help out and to be a good neighbor right now, and to look out for the other people around you,” Byrd said.

Councilmember Ben Elenbaas assured that these measures are to meant to help slow the advance of COVID-19. “As long as we don’t overrun our infrastructure, we’re all going to be okay,” he said.

“Be prepared — maybe don’t be over prepared because your being over prepared may make it so your neighbor isn’t prepared, and that doesn’t help the community either,” Elenbaas added. “So an appropriate amount of toilet paper… Make sure your neighbor can have some too.”

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