While no cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus have been discovered in South King County, the city of Federal Way is taking precautionary steps to solidify emergency action plans in the unlikely event the virus does come to town.
“Right now, we’re in the prepare and monitor phase,” said Ray Gross, Federal Way’s emergency manager.
The 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is a new respiratory virus with symptoms that include mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough and difficulty breathing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
If you develop a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath, within 14 days after travel from China, you should call ahead to a healthcare professional and mention your recent travel or close contact.
So far, the virus has spread to 23 countries, including the U.S. where 11 cases have been confirmed in Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington.
A Snohomish County man was the first person in the United States diagnosed with the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) that originated in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. The 35-year-old man was admitted to Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett on Jan. 20, after returning to the U.S. from recent travels to Wuhan, and was released on Feb. 1.
As of Feb. 4, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) reported a total of 22 persons under investigation have been tested, including the one confirmed case of the virus in Washington state. Of those tested, 18 were negative and three remained pending. Additionally, 17 close contacts are still being monitored.
According to DOH, “while the current situation poses a public health threat, we have no evidence the virus is spreading in Washington so the risk to the general public is low.”
Federal Way initiated planning for the Avian influenza (H5N1, or more commonly known as the bird flu) beginning in 2013, therefore the city’s response to the coronavirus is an update to procedures already in place, Gross said.
At the city level, internal emergency preparedness focuses on the continuity of operation planning to maintain essential functions, Gross said.
This includes reviewing back-up plans for if primary city department heads become ill, and creating a three-individual deep plan of who would fill in, while also ensuring staff are cross-trained to complete those essential functions. Weekly virus update emails are also sent to all city staff.
“That’s probably the hardest part of the planning, is just looking at the staffing “ Gross said. “Based on current professional standards, we’re prepared to that limit. We have leadership in place, with depth, so the city’s essential functions would continue.”
City Hall cleaning staff are ensuring hand sanitizers are routinely stocked and also paying special attention to commonly touched areas, such as door handles and stairway rails.
As partnerships are a major key of preparedness, the city works closely with Federal Way police, South King Fire and Rescue, Lakehaven Water and Sewer District, Federal Way Public Schools, Federal Way Public Works and St. Francis Hospital.
Gross said the city connects with the hospital three to four times a week to hear updates on coronavirus screenings taking place in Federal Way.
St. Francis Hospital is closely monitoring all developments with the coronavirus, said Cary Evans, vice president for communications and government affairs, CHI Franciscan in a statement to the Mirror.
“We have the necessary supplies and are prepared to identify, isolate and treat any potential patient who seeks care in our facility.”
Joint trainings and monthly meetings between all of the organizations allow each to share pertinent concerns and refine the emergency plans of action.
“All of us are communicating back and forth about what’s impacting our agencies,” Gross said. “So information sharing, coordinating and communication, those are the three big underlying things that further emergency management with the organizations.”
Most of the partnerships preparedness efforts have been focused on preparation for pandemic, such as bird flu, measles, Ebola or now the coronavirus, as well as for earthquakes and other natural disasters.
In 2009 and again in 2017, about 75 individuals combined from the Federal Way agencies, along with a few private sector and faith-based organizations, attended week-long Federal Emergency Management Agency trainings in Maryland. Attendees ranged from directors, mid-management and field individuals to elected officials and policymakers.
The 2009 training focused on earthquake preparedness and response, while the 2017 training focused on earthquake mitigation and recovery — the four cycles of emergency management, Gross said.
As the city remains cautious, “staying informed is the best thing a resident can do right now,” Gross said.
According to Public Health Seattle & King County, the coronavirus is a serious public threat, but no cause for panic.
“Right now, we are seeing some deeply misinformed and hurtful judgments being cast against people of Asian descent in our community. A person’s ethnicity or nationality has nothing to do with risk of spreading novel coronavirus to another person. Stigma is not going to fight this outbreak, but it will hurt innocent people,” PHSKC spokesperson Hilary Karasz said in a statement. “The only way we are going to succeed in our response is by coming together as a community, not splitting apart.”
Gross encourages Federal Way residents to stay informed with valid information sources and to develop a habit of “out of the house” hygiene, which includes regular handwashing and keeping your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth.
Residents should also, as a standard cautionary rule, be prepared with supplies for both pandemic and natural disasters from one to 14 days.
The DOH recommends people practice preventative actions similar to those recommended during flu season, such as appropriate handwashing and staying home when ill.
The DOH does not recommend people wear masks when they are in public. As surgical masks are selling out of local drug stores, the DOH said masks can be useful in some settings to prevent someone who has a respiratory illness from spreading it to others.
The DOH has established a call center for questions about the coronavirus. For more information, call 1-800-525-0127 and press #.
The city of Federal Way Emergency Management Division is hosting an informational presentation for the community Saturday, Feb. 29.
Discussion about the coronavirus will cover the background and current situation, how local government is preparing, address known rumors and myths, and will provide individual preparedness recommendations.
The presentation starts at 9 a.m. Feb. 29, at Federal Way City Hall. Attendees must register for this free event by contacting Ray Gross via email@example.com or 253-835-2712.
Reporters Madison Miller and Natalie DeFord contributed to this article.