Page updated: Thursday August 13, 2020 at 10:35 a.m.
Whatcom County is currently in Phase 2 of reopening, as detailed in the Safe Start plan.The Safe Start Plan has 4 phases, with counties moving from Phase 1 (most restrictive) to Phase 4 (least restrictive) as conditions allow.
On July 23, Governor Inslee announced changes to the Safe Start Plan for county-by-county phased reopenings due to high rates of COVID-19 transmission throughout the state. Changes to the Safe Start plan include new restrictions that will be phased in on 7/25, 7/30, and 8/6.
Whatcom County will remain in Phase 2 of the Plan until further notice. The phased approach to reopening is a strategy to dial back restrictions slowly so that individuals and businesses have time to adjust and we can monitor outcomes to make sure we can all stay safe. For the latest information on what is open in each Phase, visit the Washington State Coronavirus Response page.
“Safe Start” is Washington’s four phase reopening plan for Washington. Businesses, non-profit workers, and employees with questions can visit our Resources for Businesses and Organizations page or submit an inquiry to the state’s Business Response Center.
As we reopen Whatcom County remember:
Safe Start is the plan for the phased approach to reopening Washington’s economy safely. Following the guidance for each phase of safe Start is a way for all of us to reduce the general risk to ourselves and to others. Whatcom County is currently in Phase 2. You can learn more about what is open in each phase on the state’s coronavirus website. In addition to following the guidance for Phase 2 it’s still important to:
Quarantine is for individuals who we know have had direct exposure to the virus by being a close contact of someone with confirmed COVID-19. Typically a close contact is defined as someone who has spent 15 minutes or longer within six feet of someone who was contagious with COVID-19. Someone self-quarantining stays home and limits interactions with others, including those in the home. This is important because a person can be contagious before symptoms begin. People who cannot isolate or quarantine safely in their home, can stay at the county’s isolation/quarantine facility at no cost to them. We will help arrange for a stay at the facility. For more information about the difference between Stay Home, Stay Healthy, self-quarantine, and self-isolation see our fact sheet.
If you believe a business is not operating in a way that complies with the governor’s Safe Start guidance, you can submit an anonymous report. (Guidelines for enforcement for the Governor’s order (pdf)).
Workplace safety and health complaints about your workplace or job site should be submitted to the L&I Call Center: 1-800-423-7233
Only call 911 for emergency situations.
PPE has been in short supply across the United States. To help get PPE to those who need it, Whatcom Unified Command uses a set of priority criteria to distribute PPE. The criteria are based on emerging response needs and guidelines from the Washington State Department of Health.
PPE requests are prioritized to make sure that our health care workers, emergency response personnel, long term health care facilities with confirmed cases of COVID-19, and other health care facilities with confirmed cases of COVID-19 have their requests filled first. As those requests are completed, all other resource requests are filled as supplies allow. The priority criteria can change often since they are based on emerging response needs and the supply received by Whatcom County Unified Command.
An antibody test, also known as a serological test, looks for antibodies in the blood that suggest to us if a person has been exposed to a virus or bacteria. Your immune system makes antibodies when you are fighting off viruses and bacteria.
In the future, antibody testing may be able to reliably tell us several important things:
However, scientists need to study antibody testing and COVID-19 immunity further to answer some important questions:
How reliable and accurate are antibody tests? There are dozens of antibody tests being marketed in the United States that haven’t been fully validated yet. Some tests are more accurate than others, and some can’t be compared to each other. We simply don’t know at this point that those tests are giving valid information.
What kind of long-term immunity do people have to COVID-19 after an infection? There isn’t yet enough scientific information to tell us how long immunity lasts in people who have been infected. With many diseases, immunity can wane over time for various reasons. We need to study this more before we can say that an antibody test proves immunity to COVID-19 in the long run.
Right now, antibody tests can not be used to confirm whether or not someone has COVID-19. We are continuing to monitor this new science with hope that antibody testing will be another tool to prevent spread of COVID-19.
Some providers are offering COVID-19 antibody testing. Currently, COVID-19 antibody tests do not tell people that they won’t get sick again. We need a better understanding about what kind of long-term immunity people have to COVID-19. There isn’t yet enough scientific information to tell us how long immunity lasts in people who have already been infected. With many diseases, immunity can wane over time for various reasons.
Scientists need to study this more before we can know if an antibody test is actually proof of immunity to COVID-19 in the long run. There is still a lot to learn about what these tests really tell us.
At this time, we do not recommend antibody testing as a reliable way to check for immunity or recovery from COVID-19. No one should draw definite conclusions about their protection from COVID-19 based on currently available antibody tests.
While antibody testing holds a lot of potential, it doesn’t yet give us the kind of reliable information we need. Given the inaccuracies in the available tests and the uncertainty about what the test results mean for immunity, the test results are not yet a good source of information for us to base our public health decisions on. More work is needed on this kind of testing in the coming weeks and months.
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a new virus called SARS-CoV-2. Most people with COVID-19 will have mild disease, but some people will get sicker and may need to be hospitalized.
The vast majority of people with novel coronavirus infection do not require medical care or hospitalization. A much smaller percentage of people get severely ill with respiratory problems like pneumonia. According to the CDC, people most at risk for severe illness are:
Symptoms of coronavirus may include:
Yes. COVID-19 can be spread by individuals who are not exhibiting typical symptoms. In some cases, the individual may not have developed symptoms yet, and in other cases, people may carry and spread the virus without ever experiencing symptoms.
You generally need to be in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 to get infected. Close contact includes:
If you’ve been in close contact with someone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19 you should self-quarantine, monitor your symptoms, ask your healthcare provider to order a test and follow this guidance from the Washington State Department of Health.
Our disease investigators are reaching out to anyone who was likely to be in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19. Follow these guidelines from the Washington State Department of Health if you were in close contact with someone with lab-confirmed COVID-19 (within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes):
It can take up to 14 days from the time of exposure until your symptoms appear. If you develop any symptoms of COVID-19, even mild ones:
You may be asked to get tested to determine if you have COVID-19 but aren’t showing symptoms. The test should be performed between 3 and 7 days from your last exposure. However, even if you test negative, you will still need to quarantine because it can take up to 14 days for the infection to develop.
If you have conditions that may increase your risk for a serious infection contact your healthcare provider’s office, and tell them that you were exposed to someone with COVID-19. They may want to monitor your health more closely or test you for COVID-19.
If you have not been contacted by us it means you were likely not a close contact. If you think you were a close contact, you can call us at (360) 778-6000. If you think you were at risk of exposure, we also suggest you take the standard precautions and cleaning recommendations for all community members:
If you are an essential worker you can continue to work, provided you don’t have symptoms and the following steps are taken:
Follow these steps for 14 days from the time you were exposed. If you develop symptoms, notify your employer and leave work immediately. For more information, see guidance from the CDC and the Washington State Department of Health. Essential workers include state & local law enforcement; 911 call center employees; hazardous material responders; janitorial and other custodial staff; and workers in food and agriculture, critical manufacturing, informational technology, transportation, energy and government facilities.
If you develop any of these emergency warning signs* for COVID-19 get medical attention immediately:
*This list is not all inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you.
Call 911 if you have a medical emergency: Notify the operator that you have, or think you might have, COVID-19. If possible, put on a cloth face covering before medical help arrives.
If you have COVID-19, stay home except to get medical care. Do not go to work, school, or public areas. Avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis.
Self-isolate:separate yourself from other people and animals in your home:
So far, pregnant people do not appear to be at greater risk for illness and complications from COVID-19 than other adults. Your healthcare provider will provide specific guidance for labor, delivery, and caring for your baby if you are sick. For additional information, the Washington State Department of Health has published guidance for Pregnancy, Birth, and Caring for Your Baby with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19 (also in Spanish). For more resources, visit our Topics page.
The return to work procedure for (non-healthcare) workers who are close contacts of someone diagnosed with COVID-19 varies between critical infrastructure workers (who work for essential businesses) and workers at non-essential businesses.
All non-healthcare workers (essential and non-essential businesses) who are diagnosed with or identified as probably having COVID-19, must be excluded from work and may not return until they are released from isolation by the health department.
Workers diagnosed with COVID-19 who are:
In all cases, a public health nurse will notify people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and their close contacts, of isolation or quarantine duration and when they may return to work. If you meet the criteria to be released from isolation, a negative test is not required to return to work.
For healthcare workers with mild to moderate illness, you may return to work when:
For asymptomatic healthcare workers:
For healthcare workers with severe to critical illness, or who are severely immunocompromised:
You should also:
Some healthcare workers may experience prolonged cough as a result of respiratory viral infection, which may continue after isolation has ended. Those workers should wear a face mask until their cough resolves or their health returns to normal.
You should actively monitor for symptoms consistent with COVID-19 infection, but can return to work provided you:
If you start to experience symptoms, you should go home immediately and contact your healthcare provider.
Unless you are severely immunocompromised or have experienced a serious case of COVID-19, a negative test result should not be required to return to work. Instead, allow at least 10 days since symptom onset (or date of test for asymptomatic individuals), at least 24 hours since resolution of fever (without medications), and significant improvement of other symptoms.
If you do have insurance:
If you do not have insurance:
On March 16, Whatcom County received $905,821 from the Washington State Department of Commerce for emergency housing made necessary by the COVID-19 outbreak. These funds have been used for:
Many non-profit housing agencies expanded services in response to our community’s urgent housing and support needs, but have lost revenue due to the pandemic. You can support these agencies with contributions made directly from their websites.
On June 26, 2020, a statewide order began requiring individuals to wear a face covering in indoor public spaces such as stores, offices and restaurants in Washington State. The order also requires face coverings outdoors when you can’t stay six feet apart from others. This order was expanded on July 23 to include all shared spaces associated with residential settings, such as apartment complexes and condominiums, as well as congregate living facilities.
Washington State residents and visitors must wear face coverings in most public settings. Wear a face covering when you are at any indoor or outdoor public space where you may be within six feet of someone who does not live with you.
Public spaces include:
This order will remain in effect until it is repealed or replaced by the Secretary of Health, or until it is ended by the Governor.
Beginning June 8, most employees are required to wear a cloth facial covering or face mask, except when working alone in an office, vehicle, or at a job site.
We are working to identify and advise those people who have had close contact with confirmed cases.
Once we know this information, we reach out to each person who is a close contact to:
Case Contact Investigators ask close contacts a few identifying questions:
Case Contact Investigators do not ask:
For more information on how to avoid scammers, visit Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Information: Help COVID-19 contact tracers, not scammers.
To find out more see our COVID-19 Case Investigation fact sheet.
Identifying close contacts and informing them to stay home and monitor for symptoms is an important public health response. We make these contacts as soon as possible.
If you were a close contact of a confirmed case while they were at the hospital, you can expect to have someone from the hospital contact you. The hospital infection prevention team does the contact investigation work for hospital employees, patients and visitors. They are able to use electronic medical records to see who was in the waiting room at the same time as the confirmed case.
COVID-19 is most commonly transmitted when people have been in close contact with someone who is infected with COVID-19. This means spending at least 15 minutes within 6 feet of that person. Because of this, we concentrate our case investigation activities on those people that had close contact with a confirmed case for a prolonged period of time. We work diligently to contact the individuals and the organizations that meet the close contact definition and advise them on how best to protect themselves and the community.
We get this question a lot. The main reasons are:
If you are not experiencing symptoms and have not been exposed to a confirmed case:
If you have been directed to care for yourself at home because you have had symptoms of COVID-19, or a confirmed case, you can stop home isolation under the following conditions:
If you have had a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19, but have not had any symptoms, you can discontinue home isolation when:
Additional information on preventing the spread of COVID-19 for your household members, intimate partners, and caregivers is available from the CDC.
Since COVID-19 is primarily transmitted through aerosols (i.e., airborne droplets that are inhaled), the layout and design of a building, as well as occupancy and type of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system, can all impact potential airborne spread of the virus.
Although Improvements to ventilation and air cleaning cannot on their own eliminate the risk of airborne transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, there are recommended precautions to reduce the potential for airborne transmission of the virus.
These precautions include increasing ventilation with outdoor air and air filtration as part of a larger strategy that includes:
By themselves, measures to reduce airborne exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19 are not enough since airborne transmission is not the only way exposure to SARS-CoV-2 could potentially occur.
This will depend on the particular lease that was negotiated. The lease may specify that either the tenant or the landlord is responsible for all HVAC expenses, though most frequently there is a clause indicating they share responsibility.
In most cases, the lease will exempt the landlord from having to pay for building improvements required because of COVID-19 because the pandemic will be considered a “force majeure” (i.e., an unavoidable or unforeseen act that prevents the landlord and/or the renter from performing obligations in the lease). Even so, it is important for renters and landlords to discuss safety measures that are needed and negotiate how they will be funded.
The Whatcom County Health Department is currently discussing summer camps and COVID-19’s impacts on these programs. The Health Department is following State Department of Health guidelines and the governor’s phased approach to opening the state. This is a rapidly changing situation, and we anticipate that requirements will be modified as we work through the different phases. Health and safety orders are subject to change and that events may need to be cancelled or rescheduled.
We encourage camp directors to be flexible and creative in their planning, and to consider programs of different lengths and sizes, or even a virtual camp experience. Some camps have already decided not to be open this summer. We understand frustration caused by the inability to make concrete plans, but it is important that we continue to follow public health recommendations to work through the phases as quickly and safely as possible.