COVID-19: What comes next
Flattening the curve is only a precursor to reopen Washington. I’ve been working with colleagues to develop The Washington Corona Action and Recovery Plan (“WA Care”) with steps and criteria to reopen our economy and schools without a devastating rebound of COVID-19.
Experts suggest that states fall below 20 new cases per million, or 140 per day for Washington, rather than the Trump Administration’s vague criteria of “downward trajectory.” On April 24, we still had over 200 new people who tested positive. When we meet this criteria, we can start to roll back restrictions.
The good news is that most Washingtonians are responsibly staying home to keep other Washingtonians safe – especially here in the 46th. It’s working, but to reopen any region of the state we first need to:
- Expand testing capacity
- Create a Washington Public Health Tracing Corps
- Provide for isolation, quarantine, safe accommodations and public information
- Have enforceable rules for workplace safety and individual workplace health plans
Our state is nowhere close to having the testing and tracing capacities needed to protect our health care workers, first responders, long-term care residents, and everyone else if we reopen too soon.
In the last week of April, only about 28,000 people were tested (April 20-27). This was a big jump, more than doubling the prior week’s total. But Washington needs to be testing 70,000 to 140,000 people a week, or 10,000 to 20,000 every day to ensure we test the following critical people on a regular basis:
- First responders.
- Health care workers.
- Long-term care and housing shelter facility staff members.
- Each patient admitted to a hospital or long-term care facility
- Essential workforces.
- More than ten people identified as having been in close contact with each person who tested positive that day.
- Teachers and school staff members when we are finally able to reopen schools.
We’re making progress, but the federal inability to mobilize to produce and distribute testing supplies is a tremendous roadblock that no amount of rhetoric can overcome.
The second cornerstone is tracing each and every person with a positive test, followed by strict mandatory isolation of each person testing positive and fourteen days of quarantine for every contact.
A “Washington Public Health Tracing Corps” would provide us with tracers and help overcome our severe shortage of nurses, public health, and many other health care professionals. Tracing needs to be done by people who are trusted in, and know, their communities (and speak the languages of community members).
Our Public Health Tracing Corps needs to be built around expanded staff in our local public health agencies and community health clinics with “surge staffing” by retired health professionals and by nursing students, Masters in Public Health students, PA and Medical students who commit to serve on-call for four years in exchange for a partial tuition grant or loan repayment with paid training. The process may involve technology like apps, but it must be grounded in person-to-person outreach done by trained tracers.
Tracing can’t be done effectively just over the phone. Washington’s tracers should be enabled to immediately sign quarantined individuals up for unemployment, SNAP food benefits; and, arrange homeschooling, food delivery, and isolation in a hotel or other setting if home isolation is not feasible. We need tracers from organizations trusted in their communities.
Finally, when you go to a store that is open, you should be able to see how safe a business’ COVID prevention plan is when you walk up – just as we can with restaurant inspection ratings by local health agencies.
Every nonessential workplace over a minimal threshold of employees should have a health plan for COVID developed collaboratively with their workers and forwarded to their local health agency. Local public health agencies and state agencies need to have enforceable rules for barriers preventing transmission, masks, washing stations, cleaning surfaces, capacity, and protecting employees who stop work due to inadequate protections for themselves or customers. No business should be opened without a health plan. The Legislature should ensure that every local health agency can inspect and rate reopened businesses.
First in Nation Legislation to End Sexual Harassment “Pass the Harasser” at Colleges
Students deserve protection from faculty, coaches, or administrators who are serial sexual harassers or predators. For a year, I worked to bring together Washington’s universities, survivor advocates, faculty groups and others to develop the nation’s first state-legislation to end the common practice of “pass the harasser”; allowing a faculty, coach, or administrator who has committed sexual assault or harassment to move to another college without the second institution learning of the findings.
House Bill 2327 ensures that schools in our State will know if an applicant has a history of sexual harassment or assault. Our state’s schools will be the first in the nation required to disclose such findings. We will also be the first to bar non-disclosure agreements used to keep these cases secret.
As one of our State’s commissioners on the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education, I will be working to have other state’s university systems and legislators agree to join in ending “pass the harasser.” It passed both chambers and was signed into law by the governor.
Thank you for keeping up with what is going on with our state’s COVID-19 response, and developments in Olympia. Open and transparent interaction between the public and their lawmakers is vital to good decision making and a healthy Democracy.
Please reach out to me if you have any questions, concerns, or suggestions. I look forward to hearing from you.
Rep. Gerry Pollet