Public Health Recommendations

Last updated: 6:35 pm, Tuesday, March 24, 2020

This is the latest guidance based on the increasing risk of spread of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in our region.These are proactive steps we can all take to protect ourselves, our families and our community.

Recommendations may change

Information continues to change frequently. Please check back regularly to get the latest updates.

We know that people are worried about this new disease, and how to respond to it. We are evaluating this situation daily and working to communicate effectively as changes occur. 

Check our website and Facebook page often.

Recommendations for All Whatcom County Residents

On Monday, March 23, Governor Inslee announced a Stay Home, Stay Healthy Executive Order, the best tool we currently have to slow the spread of COVID-19. This decision is a proven strategy that will save lives. This order will last for two weeks and could be extended. Here are the key things for Whatcom residents to know about the order:

  • Requires every Washingtonian to stay home unless they are doing an essential activity such as specific types of employment, grocery shopping, attending doctor’s visits or going outside for a walk. When you do these things, you must maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others. 

  • Immediately bans all gatherings for social, recreational or spiritual purposes. This includes things like religious services, sleepovers, playing sports with friends, weddings and funerals.

  • Closes all businesses except essential businesses or those able to let employees work remotely without coming into physical contact with others.

We know that this is a disruptive and alarming change for many of us. It’s going to require that we make some big adjustments to our lives for at least the next two weeks.

Read more about Governor Inslee’s Executive Order here

School Closures

In alignment with Governor Inslee’s announcement on March 13, 2020, all Whatcom County schools will be closed from March 17 through at least April 24, 2020.

These school closures are coordinated throughout the state of Washington. School closures are an important measure that help:

  • Slow the spread of COVID-19 through our community.
  • Contribute to our desired goal of having fewer people requiring hospitalization and critical care at one time.
  • Preserve healthcare capacity to provide intensive medical care for complicated COVID-19 infections, as well as other critical medical conditions.

In making these decisions, we understand the significant burden that these infection control measures have on our community. We have consulted with the superintendents of Whatcom County public schools to address the consequences of recommended school closures. We have considered the impact on student learning, the continuation of nutrition services, childcare for working parents, and the needs of our homeless students. 

We will continue to address these with our school and other community partners.

Guidance for people at higher risk for severe COVID-19 illness

All people have been instructed to stay home unless conducting essential activities, such as certain types of work, grocery shopping, and seeking medical attention after speaking with their medical providers. For those who are at higher risk, we recommend leaving home only to seek medical attention after speaking with medical providers and when there are no other options available. As reported by the CDC, people at higher risk include:

  • People aged 65 years and older

  • People who live in a nursing home or long-term care facility

  • Other high-risk conditions could include:

    • People with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma

    • People who have serious heart conditions

    • People who are immuno-compromised including cancer treatment

    • People of any age with severe obesity (body mass index [BMI] >40) or certain underlying medical conditions, particularly if not well controlled, such as those with diabetes, renal failure, or liver disease might also be at risk

  • People who are pregnant should be monitored since they are known to be at risk with severe viral illness, however, to date data on COVID-19 has not shown increased risk

More detailed guidance for people at higher risk is available from the Washington State Department of Health.

Caregivers of children with underlying health conditions should consult with healthcare providers about whether their children should stay home. Anyone who has questions about whether their condition puts them at risk for severe illness resulting from novel coronavirus should consult with their healthcare providers.

Guidance for Long-Term Care Facilities

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) is urging all long-term care facilities to immediately take aggressive actions to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection in residents and staff. On Monday, March 16, 2020 Washington State Governor Jay Inslee issued a proclamation that prohibits visitors from entering Long-Term Care Facilities. 

We’ve included a brief summary of the recommendations:

  • Comply with visitor restrictions.
  • Screen all staff for fever and respiratory symptoms.
  • Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as recommended.
  • Actively monitor all residents at least daily for possible signs of respiratory infection.
  • Put plans in place to limit resident movement and ensure residents stay at least six feet away from one another.
  • Transfer ill residents to a higher level of care.
  • Implement fastidious infection control measures.

Detailed recommendations for Long Term Care Facilities are available from DOH.

Guidance for Businesses and Employers

Employers must do their part to slow the spread of disease.

  • In accordance with Governor Inslee’s executive order of 3/23/20, businesses that are not considered essential or able to provide opportunities for employees to work remotely will be closed for at least two weeks, effective 3/26/20.

  • Businesses that are remaining open should:

    • Consider expanding telecommuting options for as many employees as possible.

    • Urge employees to stay home when they are sick and maximize flexibility in sick leave benefits.

    • Utilize remote meeting options, when possible.

    • Adhere to all COVID-19 prevention measures including:

      • Meeting social distancing recommendations in the workplace.

      • Employees must be screened for coronavirus symptoms each day and asked to return home if symptomatic.

      • Following environmental cleaning guidelines .

Whatcom County Guidelines for Workplaces and Retail Businesses

Guidance for Individuals

Personal prevention habits are effective for preventing COVID-19 infection. We continue to repeat this because these are important action steps everyone can take to protect their health. Additionally, for other, community-wide actions to be most effective, people must also continue to practice these habits.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.

  • Avoid close contact with others.

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands.

  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces.

  • If you are sick, contact your medical provider before visiting their office.

  • Do not leave your home unless you are seeking medical help, pursuing essential activities like grocery shopping, or exercising at least six feet away from others.

What to do if you are sick

If you are sick, stay home except to get medical care.

  • If you are sick and have mild symptoms, stay home and take care of yourself as you would for a cold or flu. Stay home away from others until 72 hours after the fever is gone and symptoms are better AND it has been seven days since the start of symptoms.

If your symptoms get worse, seek medical attention.

  • Call ahead to your regular provider before going into a clinic or other health care facility.
  • Do not go directly to the emergency room. Emergency rooms need to be able to serve those with the most critical needs.
  • If you need emergency medical care, call 9-1-1.

These resources from the Washington State Department of Health have answers about possible exposures: