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https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/Coronavirus (Scroll to bottom of the page for FAQs)
Yes. Thomas Locke, MD, MPH, Jefferson County Health Officer, issued a Masking Directive on May 28, 2020.
Effective June 26, a statewide order requires individuals to wear a face covering in indoor public spaces such as stores, offices and restaurants. The order also requires face coverings outdoors when you can’t stay 6 feet apart from others. For more information: https://coronavirus.wa.gov/information-for/you-and-your-family/face-masks-or-cloth-face-covering
Jefferson County residents have done a remarkable job in reducing transmission of COVID-19. There have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Jefferson County since April 9 and there have been no patients with this infection admitted to Jefferson Healthcare. We now know that community mitigation measures are an effective emergency tool for controlling this pandemic. Next we need to learn how to dial back these mitigations while continuing to control transmission of coronavirus. -Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County Health Officer April 29, 2020
The Washington Department of Health and the FDA have said there is no evidence that Coronavirus is spreading through food or food packaging at this time. The very best practice is to make sure you thoroughly wash your hands before eating or handling food. Disinfecting food is not recommended. For the guidance from the FDA please visit this link: https://www.fda.gov/emergency-preparedness-and-response/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19-frequently-asked-questions#food .
Here is guidance from the Department of Health on how to best protect yourself from Coronavirus: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/1600/NovelCoronavirusFactSheet.pdf
Social distancing is what will work to protect you. Additional information about existing cases will not tell you if people you encounter or things you touch could potentially expose you to COVID-19.
Public health case investigation of a confirmed case is very thorough and identifies persons or settings when and where significant exposure may have occurred. Identified contacts are informed and given guidance on what to do and symptoms to look for.
There are multiple diseases that are circulating in the community that have symptoms similar to COVID-19. In addition, there continue to be cases in the community that exhibit mild illness and never seek care, or are unable to get confirmatory tests. Even a person who tests negative one day might be infected the next, with or without symptoms.
It is safest for everyone to protect themselves by social distancing. Limit exposure to other people (6 ft distance is recommended), avoid contact with people who are ill, wash your hands, and avoid touching your face. Guidance is available for persons who are caring for sick loved ones at home.
It is also important to know that Jefferson County Public Health and Social Services must comply with Washington State laws protecting medical confidentiality. By law, we can only release limited information about cases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines ’close contact’ as being within approximately 6 feet (2 meters) of a COVID-19 case for a prolonged period of time (15 minutes or more); close contact can occur while caring for, living with, visiting, or sharing a health care waiting area or room with a COVID-19 case OR having direct contact with infectious secretions of a COVID-19 case (e.g., being coughed on).
Events and rapid changes happening around COVID can be stressful. There are a few resources that can help.
SARS CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19 infection, has been spreading in the United States since the beginning of 2020. There is still much that is uncertain about this pandemic infection but it is known that the main way it is spread is through respiratory droplets and aerosols. Masks provide an effective form of “source control”, catching respiratory secretions before they can spread to other people. We have also learned that many people who have COVID-19 do not have symptoms (asymptomatic cases) or are infectious for several days before they develop symptoms (presymptomatic cases). This means that people can carry and spread the virus without knowing they are infected. This does not appear to be a rare occurrence and may, in fact, be the major way the virus is spread. Masking (to prevent spread of infectious respiratory particles) and physical distancing (to lessen risk of exposure to airborne particles) are the best currently available strategies for controlling asymptomatic and presymptomatic spread of coronavirus. Until we have something better, we have to rely on these basic strategies to prevent as many cases of COVID-19 as we can.
Different types of masks provide different levels of protection to their users. Simple cloth masks are the least effective at filtering the air that is inhaled. Depending on their fit and the fabric type used in their construction, they do provide some filtering effect. Their greatest value is to trap respiratory droplets and aerosols that are exhaled, preventing the exposure of others to any potentially infectious particles we might breath or cough out. Medical masks (surgical and N-95) provide more filtration and user protection from inhaled aerosols. Fit tested N-95 masks (used in high risk health care settings) offer the highest level of protection. Unfortunately, medical masks are in short supply, especially N-95 masks, and their use for health care workers and first responders is prioritized.
The coronavirus pandemic presents many unprecedented challenges. Health care workers and first responders have been asked to put their health on the line, often with inadequate supplies of personal protective equipment like medical masks. They have done this heroically and at great person cost. More than 60,000 health care workers have been infected with COVID-19 and almost 300 have died. Essential workers have been on duty since the beginning of the pandemic, also taking risks for the benefit of others. Non-medical personnel have their part to play in controlling this pandemic as well. One of thing we can all do is to wear masks in indoor public places and outdoor settings where physical distancing cannot be maintained. Some people want to look at mask wearing solely as a matter of personal risk – if a person wants to go mask free, they willingly take the risk. But it’s not that simple. If they are unwittingly infected with COVID-19 they are putting other people at risk as well. In an infectious disease pandemic, our personal choices have public health consequences.
We are in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. It will likely be another year or longer before it is under control. Most scientific research on masks as a communicable disease control strategy were done for the control of influenza, including the 4 influenza pandemics which have occurred over the last 100 years. Scientific studies support the value of masks as both a source control strategy (i.e. worn by people with acute influenza infection) and for worker protection (for health care workers taking care of hospitalized influenza patients). Not all studies shown benefit and there is ongoing uncertainty. Several recent U.S. studies have indicated that simple cloth masks are an effective source control strategy and this has led the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and a growing number of state and local health officials to recommend masks as part of a comprehensive pandemic coronavirus control strategy. (06/08/2020)
There is a high level of interest in getting vaccinated by the groups being vaccinated first. They are on the front line of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic response, which gives them the highest risk of exposure and one of the most important pandemic response jobs -- testing for infection and treating those who are infected. It is yet to be seen how interested other priority groups will be. Interest seems to be high in senior citizens and those with serious health conditions, both of whom are at increased risk of COVID-19 complications. Some people believe the pandemic is a hoax or, at worst, no worse than seasonal influenza. And there is a strong anti-vaccination movement in the U.S. and Jefferson County has more than its share of "anti-vaxxers". Hopefully they will see that widespread vaccination is essential to bringing the pandemic to an end.
A community masking policy that depends on criminal penalties and punitive enforcement is doomed to failure. If we cannot come together as a community and accept the mild inconvenience of having to wear masks in public places, then we are unlikely to successfully rise to the challenge that this public health emergency presents. Masking does not have to be 100%. Some people cannot wear masks due to age or an underlying medical condition. Some people will refuse to wear masks as a political statement or to show their opposition to public health authority. Not everyone is a responsible member of society. For those who are concerned about the welfare of others and who accept the concept that the choices we make effect the health and safety of others, use of cloth masks in public is a way to protect fellow community members. When they do the same, they are protecting us. The more people who wear masks in situations where airborne spread of coronavirus can occur, the safer those places become. Even those not wearing masks benefit from the inconvenience others have accepted on their behalf.
On May 28, 2020 I issued a masking directive for the citizens of Jefferson County. It gives business owners the authority to exclude unmasked individuals from publicly accessible places unless they meet one of the directive’s exemptions. I am not requiring businesses or community members to enforce this directive. I am giving them the opportunity to use this public health authority to protect themselves, their employees, and their customers. We need to give ourselves a chance to act like responsible adults and engaged citizens. Some community members cannot wear masks due to medical or psychological conditions. They should not be stigmatized or made to feel unwelcome. It is reasonable to ask an unmasked individual to put on a face covering while in an indoor environment or outdoors in close proximity to others. If they state they have a medical exemption, this should be accepted in good faith. If they refuse on ideological grounds, they can be asked to leave the private business. If they become belligerent or threatening, they are creating a nuisance and law enforcement can be called to assist. Increasingly, indoor masking will become the social norm.
Neither public health authority or individual rights are absolute, they must be in balance. Public health codes exist to protect everyone (including the person who feels their rights are being violated). They balance the rights of individuals against the right of everyone to be free from a preventable health threat. A person with a contagious disease might feel aggrieved by a public health order that keeps them in isolation for the duration of their illness but that order protects other people from being exposed and infected with that disease. In the case of masking, people are being required to protect each other. If it were solely a matter of personal risk, it would be much simpler – everyone could take whatever risk they want without effecting anyone else (like mountain climbing or downhill skiing). Public health is seldom simple. The “personal” risk you take can also affect the risk you are imposing on others. In the case of pandemic coronavirus, these risks can be substantial. A health young adult may feel that they can weather a case of COVID-19 without difficulty. If they spread it to an elderly relative with chronic health issues the outcome could be tragically different. For those who want to see wearing masks in public during this pandemic as yet another front in the bitter and divisive “culture war” that is engulfing America, I urge them to satisfy your need for political conflict elsewhere. COVID-19 is real, not a hoax. People are getting sick and dying. It will get worse before it gets better. Accepting the minor inconvenience of wearing a cloth mask is not too much to ask to protect community health. Refusing to wear a mask (if you otherwise don’t have a legitimate age or medical reason) is not a bold political statement. It’s selfish and self-centered.
There are three different directives that compel use of masks to prevent coronavirus transmission that effect Jefferson County residents:
1) Governor Inslee’s proclamation that covers employers and employees,
2) the Jefferson County Health Officer’s directive on mask use, and
3) the requirements of individuals businesses for public access to their private business (“No shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service”).
The Governor’s proclamation requires that employers and employees wear cloth masks in indoor settings (unless alone in a separate room) and in outdoor settings where a 6-foot physical distance cannot be maintained. Enforcement is through Labor and Industries occupational health regulations and penalties are strict.
The Health Officer’s directive of May 28, 2020 requires individuals not meeting one of its 5 exemptions to wear a face covering when in indoor public settings or outdoor public locations when a 6-foot physical separation cannot be maintained. Additionally, businesses are directed to not allow non-employees to enter or remain inside a building without a mask, except under certain circumstances.
And finally, businesses are free to set reasonable health criteria for people entering their buildings. Costco and Goodwill require customers to wear masks as a matter of corporate policy. Hospitals and clinics require patient and visitors to wear facial masks. This is a growing trend.
The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 is still in its early stages. Outbreaks, hospitalizations, and deaths will continue until a vaccine is developed or effective antiviral medications are discovered. Washington State is attempting a phased reopening of businesses and community activities in what is known as the Safe Start Washington Plan. This reopening will inevitably increase the risk of coronavirus transmission. Jefferson County is currently in Phase 2 of this reopening plan, allowing restaurants and other businesses to partially reopen. If we are able to prevent surges of COVID-19 during this phase, Jefferson County will be eligible for further reopening of businesses, movie theatres, museums, libraries, and other community functions. Successful reopening is by no means guaranteed. The public health and medical systems have spent the last 10 weeks preparing for the increase in COVID-19 that will occur when community life resumes and summer travelers flock to the area. These systems can only react to new infections – treating disease complications and trying to limit the community spread of infection. The only thing that can PREVENT new cases of COVID-19 is widespread community implementation of the things we have learned are effective control strategies – physical distancing, masking, hand hygiene, disinfection of surfaces, cough etiquette, and staying home (and getting tested) at the earlies signs of COVID-like illness. These actions are the “make it or break it” activities that will determine whether we move forward to a reopened community or we succumb to the outbreaks and hospital surges we have tried so hard to prevent.
Those who see masking as a burdensome nuisance and something they just “don’t believe in” fail to see the severity of the situation we are in. Those who insist on seeing this pandemic through the “us against them” lens of partisan politics fail to see that there is no “them”. It’s only “us”. The pandemic coronavirus is indifferent to political ideology or social status. It sickens and kills whether we believe in it or not. Communities have come together and paid a heavy economic cost to “flatten the curve” and buy ourselves more time to respond to the pandemic. Now we are called to action and must see if we can come together as a community and successfully deal with the worst public health threat of the last century. Masking is a small but crucial part of this pandemic response plan. (06/08/2020)
People who recover from COVID-19 (which is over 99% of people who get it) seem to have at least temporary immunity from reinfection. Studies have shown that antibody levels developed during infection decline rapidly and may not be protective after 90 days. There may be other elements of immunity (“cellular immunity”) that persist longer. Studies done on survivors of the 2003-04 SARS epidemic (a close viral cousin of the current pandemic strain) developed immunity that lasted 1-3 years. The Centers for Disease Control now recommends that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and are re-exposed to the infection within 90 days do not need to go into quarantine again. If re-exposure occurs after 90 days, repeat quarantine and testing is necessary.
If it turns out naturally derived immunity is short-lived, this does not mean an effective vaccine is impossible. Vaccines are capable of inducing a more robust and longer lasting immunity than natural infection. Only time will tell how long naturally acquired COVID-19 immunity will last. Likewise, when vaccines are developed, only studies spanning many years will answer the question of persistence of immunity.
Yes. Overall health is very important in maintaining a strong immune system that can deal effectively with the COVID-19. Regular exercise, a nutritious diet, and high-quality sleep are especially important. There is some evidence that people with low levels of vitamin D have a greater risk of more severe COVID infections. Vitamin D is produced when our skin is exposed to sunlight. It is also used to fortify various foods (like milk) and can be take in supplement form. Diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and obesity are all linked to increased COVID-19 complications. These are all conditions that can be prevented or improved through a good diet and exercise program. People whose diabetes, hypertension, or heart disease that is well controlled are less likely to have complications than those who have poor controlled disease.
The term "people outside your household" means anyone you don’t live with. This includes close family members you don’t currently live with.
Saying no is never easy, but there are ways to make it a little easier—both to say and to hear. Start with acknowledging the invite (“Thank you for thinking of me...I will miss you”). Second, keep the “no” short and sweet with no excuses (“No thank you, I don’t feel comfortable with this type of gathering right now”). And finally, if it feels right for the situation, suggest an alternative way to hang out (“could we take a walk just the two of us next week?”).
The Washington State Department of Health is developing a web application that will list priority groups and when each group is eligible for vaccination. The need to wait in line is due to the high demand and limited supply of the vaccine. By early Summer there is expected to be ample vaccine. Jefferson County Public Health will also post updated eligibility information at our website: Jeffersoncountypublichealth.org.
Do your best to communicate that your decisions aren’t personal – it’s a precaution taken out of love. Explain that you will miss the traditional holiday gathering and look forward to getting together again in the future. If you like, you can also suggest some online alternatives that everyone can participate in safely – we have a few ideas that might help.
Washington State is expecting 164,775 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 172,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to arrive by 12/29. Both vaccines require two doses (spaced 3 weeks apart for the Pfizer vaccine and 4 weeks apart for the Moderna). This means almost 337,000 Washingtonians can begin their vaccine series this month. An equivalent amount will be needed next month to complete the series. In Jefferson County, we expect over 1,000 health care workers, first responders, and long term care facility staff and residents to have their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of December.
The safety of the place you plan to gather depends on three things. 1) Is it outside or inside? Outside is safer. 2) Is there room to space everyone six feet (2m) apart? 3) Is everyone wearing masks? Outside is safer than inside but it is not risk-free. If you don’t have enough room for people to spread out, it’s not a place that you should gather.