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Pierce County will act together to dial up the dimmer switch

Director of Health Dr. Anthony Chen
by Anthony Chen05/31/2020 10:28 a.m.
Updated: 05/31/2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting how we work, learn, worship, and play. Every single person in Pierce County is living through one of the most challenging times of our lives.

Along with that, stress and burnout have shot up. But as we go through this together, it is important each of us stay focused on keeping ourselves, our family and friends, and our community healthy.

 Facebook Check in with Dr. Chen; We're applying for phase 2!

Good news about the COVID-19 fight.

Our lives changed when Gov. Inslee flipped the switch to prohibit public gatherings, close schools, close many businesses, and Stay Home, Stay Healthy. It has been hard, and I thank you for your sacrifice. The good news: your efforts stopped the rapid growth of cases and flattened the curve. The hopeful news: We are preparing to be ready to begin reopening.

Later today, we expect our Board of Health to vote to on my recommendation that Pierce County apply to move to Phase 2 of the Governor’s Safe Start Washington plan, which replaces the stay at home order. Pierce County has made progress because state and county government, our health systems, private institutions, and other partners came together to respond to the pandemic. And you, our residents, acted to protect and improve community health.

We are all eager to resume our normal lives. While most people have supported the stay at home order and other restrictions, we look forward to progressing through the phases of the Governor’s plan. We must help our society and economy recover while protecting community health.

As we move into Phase 2, we need to be cautious and follow state and local public health guidance to prevent a rapid surge of cases in Pierce County. Unlike flu or measles outbreaks, we have little community immunity. With about 1,900 cases out of 903,000 residents, 99% of Pierce County lacks immunity. A vaccine for COVID-19 would be our best defense, but it is not here yet.

Pulling from the public health playbook to control the disease.

Instead of flipping the switch, we must slowly relax social restrictions as though we were turning a dimmer. Gov. Inslee announced his plan for a phased approach to recovery

With the Governor’s May 29 announcement of the revised criteria for Phase 2, we believe we qualify because we:

  • See an average of 11 new cases a day for 14 days.
  • Test aggressively for infected people.
  • Investigate all cases and trace their contacts.
  • Ask people who are sick to isolate and people who are exposed to quarantine.

Currently, we have 15 staff investigating as many as 30 cases a day. Sixty staff and volunteers are trained. Our goal is a team of contact tracers, data experts and those who support them who are about 200 strong. They will be ready to investigate 350 cases and 1,400 contacts a day if needed. And we already set up temporary care centers for residents to quarantine or isolate if they need a safe place to do so.

You can see the details of our recovery plan in this presentation.

Working as one to reopen Pierce County.

Health includes physical, mental and social health. With the local infections easing, we must turn to relieving the emotional, social, and financial stresses. We want to bring society and our economy back to life as quickly and as safely possible. Restoring how we work, learn, worship, and play is a high priority for everyone. I support Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier and other community leaders on safe plans to do so.

I am encouraged our collective efforts are working. The curve is flattened, and we have some breathing room.

But our position is precarious. What we do now can influence where we are months from now. Small ripples in the summer could become a tsunami in the fall.

If we are approved to enter Phase 2, keep these tips in mind to enjoy a little more freedom while continuing to protect yourself, your family and friends, and our community:

  • Continue to spend time with family and those you live with.
  • Choose five friends or non-household members you would also like to see regularly. When you play, eat out, visit, or otherwise socialize, try to limit your close contacts to this group. You can reduce the risk of infection while enjoying more Phase 2 freedom.
  • Check in with family, friends, and coworkers by phone, social media, or video calls to make sure they are OK and to offer encouragement.
  • Worship with your community of faith in the modified, allowable ways.
  • Exercise, eat healthily, and take care of your health issues. Remember that you still need to take medicines, get your children vaccinated, and otherwise keep up with health care.
  • Continue to stay home as much as possible and limit non-essential travel.
  • Continue all those healthy hygiene behaviors you have been doing—wash your hands, cover your cough, stay home if you are sick, clean high touch surfaces regularly.
  • Wear face coverings when you are in public and especially when you cannot easily keep physical distance from others.
  • If you are over 65 years old, with medical conditions, or are immune compromised, you may need to continue to stay home. Everyone’s health is different: check with your health care provider. 

We do not want to act in ways that could increase outbreaks, causing us to lose the progress for which we all worked so hard.

Until we have a vaccine, we will need to be careful as a community to not move too quickly. Individual decisions affect the health of your family, friends, neighbors, and community.

Vaccines for COVID-19 are being developed but might not be ready for a year or two. Then, we still face the challenge of making enough and immunizing everyone.

We are stronger together and must stick together to move through these phases of re-opening. The right choice for our health is also the right choice for our society and economy. Choose to do what is right and which will keep ourselves, our families and friends, and our community healthy.

For more information about COVID-19, visit www.tpchd.org/coronavirus
Director of Health Dr. Anthony Chen

by Anthony Chen

Anthony L-T Chen, MD, MPH, is the Director of Health at Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department and chief health strategist for Pierce County.

 

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.