UPDATE AS OF FEBRUARY 29, 2020 1:10PM - This is a rapidly evolving situation, and we will update this page as more information becomes available.
How We’re Preparing for COVID-19 and What You Can Do
The new coronavirus outbreak is continuing to spread to more countries, and it is more and more likely that we will see an increase in cases of 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the U.S. What does that mean for Whatcom County? Here are some answers.
Right Now, Your Risk is Still Low
The risk that you might be exposed to COVID-19 in Whatcom County remains low at this time. There are currently no cases of COVID-19 in Whatcom County. Even though we’re hearing a lot about this outbreak across the globe, there is still no evidence that the disease is currently spreading in our local community.
However, we expect that the number of cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. will grow. We can’t predict when that might happen, or even how severe an outbreak would be locally. But if the spread of COVID-19 does reach our community, it’s possible that there could be many people who become ill in a short time. As we’ve learned from past pandemics, this puts stress on our hospital and clinics, and it can affect day-to-day activities like school, work, and social events.
It’s essential that we prepare now so that we can reduce the negative effects that we could see in Whatcom County.
What Should We Prepare For?
When there are many cases of a severe infectious disease in a community, public health officials recommend some community actions to limit it from spreading further. These “social distancing” actions help decrease the number of people who get sick, lightening the load on the healthcare system, and help slow the spread of the disease.
Exactly which actions are taken depends on how severe the outbreak is. Some of the typical kinds of actions that public health might recommend are:
- Closing schools or childcare facilities – We don’t know yet if temporary school closures will be recommended for COVID-19. Schools and childcare centers are places where many people are in close contact for long periods. They are places with a higher risk for spreading infectious diseases. In a serious pandemic, schools and childcare facilities can be temporarily closed to slow down the spread of disease. School officials may also cancel school if too many students or staff are sick or absent.
- Closing non-essential workplaces or suggesting that people work from home – Just like schools, workplaces can be spots where disease can spread more easily between people. Some employers might have agreements that allow you to work from home. All employers should be ready to implement strategies to protect their workforce from COVID-19 while ensuring continuity of operations.
- Limiting or closing community gathering places or canceling public events – In severe pandemics, it can be necessary to cancel public events or close places like theaters or other places where a large number of people gather together.
How You Can Prepare Now
If there is a COVID-19 pandemic, it could last for many months. Social distancing actions can disrupt normal, daily life, but there are some things you can prepare for ahead of time.
- Plan for how you will care for kids or other loved ones at home. Talk about how you’ll arrange childcare if schools or childcare facilities are closed. When schools are closed, children should also avoid gathering together.
- Discuss sick leave policies and telework options with your employer. If you need to stay home to care for kids or other loved ones, you may be able to work remotely.
- Be ready to help neighbors and elders in your community. Plan for ways that you can help take care of people who are at greater risk for serious illness, like people with chronic health conditions or people over 65. Talk with your neighbors, and plan for ways you can help take care of one another, like dropping off groceries on their doorstep or taking turns with childcare.
- Keep doing the simple steps to prevent respiratory infections, whether that’s flu, a cold, or coronaviruses. Stay home when you are sick, cover your cough or sneeze, and wash your hands frequently. These basic disease prevention steps are actions you can take to protect yourself.
How is Public Health Preparing?
Since the first case of 2019 novel coronavirus was confirmed in the U.S. on January 21, our staff have been working to monitor this outbreak and take steps to keep our community safe.
- We have been working together with healthcare and EMS partners so that we can identify and take care of anyone who has COVID-19. Healthcare providers in our community are actively screening patients for any signs of COVID-19.
- Together with the Washington State Department of Health and the CDC, we have been monitoring healthy people who have returned from China daily to make sure that if they develop symptoms, they quickly get evaluated for COVID-19 risk. Out of an abundance of caution, we’ve instructed them to stay home from work, school, and social gatherings.
- We’re also working closely with schools, childcare facilities, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities to plan together for what to do if a COVID-19 pandemic were to reach Whatcom County. We’re preparing now for how to make decisions about some of the community actions we described above.
- We’re keeping you informed with updated, accurate information about novel coronavirus. This situation is changing daily, and we will keep updating our website and social media with information as we learn more. We also recommend these trusted sources for information about COVID-19:
This is a new virus, but the way that we prepare for and respond to it is not new. This is our day-to-day work to protect health and prevent disease in our community.