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We flipped a switch to curb COVID-19, now we’ll turn up the dimmer to keep it at bay

Assistant Division Director of Communicable Disease Stephanie Dunkel
by Stephanie Dunkel04/24/2020 4:11 p.m.
Updated: 05/04/2020

On April 21, Gov. Inslee announced the coming phases of public health’s work to reduce the spread of COVID-19. We have been planning for the next several phases of the pandemic and how it will affect our community. 

What we know.

We have done a great job as a community following Gov. Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order and following the interventions that keep us healthy! Thank you for your support and ongoing commitment!

That order came suddenly, and we compare it to turning off a light switch. As we all think about what getting “back to normal” may look like, thinking of a dimmer switch might be helpful. We’ll need to turn up the dimmer switch slowly.

Lifting social distancing measures raises certain considerations for our public health response. How and when to lift the measures? How has the pandemic affected community members most at risk? What resources do we need if we see a surge of cases in the future?

Any level of relaxing the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order affects the public health response. Three elements are essential right now: increase our capacity for case and contact investigations—you’ve heard it called contact tracing—increase access to testing throughout our community, AND support safe isolation and quarantine for residents who need it.

Having these resources in place will affect the speed at which we can turn up the lights. If we go too fast, we might see more disease surge, then we’ll have to turn the lights back down. And data about disease activity in our communities will help guide our planning. 

Let’s talk investigations.

 With our current caseload, more than 15 case and contact investigators help us contact people who test positive for COVID-19. We have about 60 staff and volunteers trained to do this work, so we can scale up when our caseload requires it. Additional staff support this team on everything from data reporting to providing technical assistance to healthcare providers.

We adjust our response and disease investigation capacity based on the number of cases and outbreaks. Large outbreaks may signal that the dimmer switch turned up too quickly.

Important parts of our response include the need for planning, outreach, education and field investigation teams. If we experience a large surge in cases in Pierce County over the coming months, public health is planning to scale up to 150-200 investigators.

As always, we hope for the best, but plan for the most extreme circumstances to make sure we have resources and plans ready in case we need them. Read more about the COVID19-Public Health Long-Term Testing and Investigation Response Strategy.

How do we fund this?

Currently, we are using existing local and state funding to support this work. We are using funds intended for all our disease investigation work and diverting them to COVID-19 pandemic response. (See notifiable conditions for an understanding of diseases that healthcare providers must report to public health for disease investigation and control.)

We have also received additional state funds for the immediate response.

The federal CARES Act funding could pay for additional contract tracing work and other public health activities necessary to limit disease spread. Pierce County will receive and distribute the CARES funding. 

How do we plan for more testing?

Providing testing to the community involves several layers. Our healthcare systems are the primary sources of testing. They follow federal and state guidance on who should be tested and when. In the meantime, if you think you might have COVID-19, talk to your healthcare provider.

Both CHI Franciscan and MultiCare Health System offer free virtual appointments to people who believe they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. If needed, the healthcare provider will refer you for testing.

Community Health Care offers testing, even if you are not their patient. Visit their website to see if you qualify and to make an appointment. 

If you don’t have a healthcare provider, visit our healthcare and help page.  

As more testing becomes available, the eligibility for testing will widen.

We are working with our healthcare coalition, hospitals and the state Department of Health on plans to expand testing. Strategies include healthcare and community-based testing if needed. And, we are looking at how to ensure equity of testing resources and unique ways to provide access.

The planning also addresses the limiting factors for testing. We consider supply chains, access points, and equipment. The good news: New testing technology and capacity are arriving, and our partners are working hard to make this happen for our community. 

What we need from you!

Help stop the spread of the virus:

  • Wash your hands with hot water and soap for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching your face, mouth and eyes.
  • Stay home if you have a fever or cough or experience shortness of breath.
  • Cover sneezes and coughs with your elbow.
  • Disinfect frequently used surfaces such as tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, mobile devices and keyboards.
  • Avoid sharing personal items like water bottles, eating utensils or towels.
  • Avoid large social gatherings and crowds.
  • For more tips on protecting yourself against COVID-19, check out our blog post.

 Visit us at www.tpchd.org/coronavirus for our latest guidance and updates.

  1. Updated: 05/04/2020
Assistant Division Director of Communicable Disease Stephanie Dunkel

by Stephanie Dunkel

Stephanie helps lead our work to keep your family safe from communicable diseases.

 

We invite your comments but will delete those with profanity, personal attacks, derogatory statements, ads or promotional material. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department does not provide personal medical advice; please contact your health care provider.