ARLINGTON – As coronavirus concern grows in the Arlington area, school districts, local governments and first responders are taking extra precautions to be prepared in case of a potential outbreak.
The reality of the virulent flu-like illness hit close to home when a Marysville resident tested positive for the coronavirus, causing the school district to close Grove Elementary School and the Early Learning Center Tuesday for a thorough sanitizing of the buildings.
In Washington state, Snohomish County has reported 8 coronavirus cases and 1 death, and King County 31 cases and 9 deaths, while statewide figures show 39 confirmed cases and 231 people under public health monitoring, according to the latest state Department of Health update.
Arlington Mayor Barb Tolbert signed a state of emergency declaration Thursday in lockstep with the county and several of its cities supporting requests for state and federal funding tied to costs for keeping the public safe.
Fire and Paramedics
“The public should know that we know of no coronavirus cases in the city,” City Administrator Paul Ellis said. “This emergency declaration is a proactive step in ensuring we have resources if the virus becomes a challenge.”
Tolbert said the city’s first responders are following safety protocols and taking extreme personal protection precautions when being dispatched to calls, and working proactively with the Snohomish Health District.
The city has also consulted with their janitorial services to deep clean surfaces in public areas, asked employees to use their sick leave when not feeling well, and encourages residents to be more vigilant and wash their hands more frequently, keeping hands away from their face to avoid transferring germs.
The coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has Arlington firefighters and paramedics training daily and following heightened protocols steps above how they would typically respond during a seasonal influenza outbreak.
“It’s otherwise heightened awareness in our jobs, and all the changes that come with it,” said Deputy Chief Chris Dickison, who is coordinating response for Arlington and North County Fire.
Even before they leave to a call, Snohomish County 9-1-1 dispatchers are already screening emergency callers with target questions to determine what if any coronavirus symptoms may be a factor, and sharing those details with responders. Medics then conduct triage from the door, Dickison said, asking whether people in the household show any signs of fever, cough or shortness of breath. If there’s a risk, responders are prepared with gloves, specialized masks, goggles and protective outerwear.
Dickison is also following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations such as screening off driver compartments from sealed care, turning the exhaust on during an entire transport, and using other options than non-aerosol medications to treat patients.
Firefighters are well-trained and accustomed to responding to medical calls during the flu season, and outbreaks such as the coronavirus, H1N1 and SARS raise the level of response commensurate with the level of threat.
So far, over 37 firefighters – all in Washington state – have been quarantined from exposure to the coronavirus, the International Association of Firefighters reported.
Arlington police are also benefitting from 9-1-1 call interrogation screening to provide the best information when arriving at a scene, Chief Jonathan Ventura said.
In addition, officer sare equipped with disposable gloves, respiratory masks and eye protection and encouraged to use them with any indications that they are warranted.
“Better safe than sorry,” Ventura said.
He added they are following CDC and Health District guidelines to maintain safe distance of six feet if interacting with high-risk contacts, and coordinating with EMS when necessary.
Police are also routinely cleaning and disinfecting their vehicles and coordinating extra cleansing of shared work spaces, using disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer in their office, washing hands frequently and straying home if displaying any signs of illness.
“We are being extra cautious and aware, but not panicking,” Ventura said.
Arlington Public Schools is also taking precautions to be prepared. The district is keeping students, teachers and families in the loop daily to help alleviate concerns, district spokesman Gary Sabol said.
The district team and a medical professional are meeting for short daily updates, and providing teachers with information to help students. Hand-washing videos are being shown, including one for younger children that asks them to sing Happy Birthday to themselves twice to meet the recommended 20-second rule.
Sabol said custodians are being meticulous in their school cleaning, spraying, wiping down desktops, door knobs and other touch points that aren’t typically cleaned as often. The same goes for school bus seats, window, the door pull handle and the driver’s area.
“We want to keep our students safe and healthy,” Sabol said. “We’re taking the Coronavirus situation seriously and trying to be pro-active.”
Among area clinics, residents are being asked to contact family physicians with concerns about potential Coronavirus symptoms. Under Health District and new state guidelines, testing for the Coronavirus is only being conducted on hospitalized patients with severe medical conditions, not in local clinics.
Health care providers recommend patients stay home with mild-to-moderate symptoms, using home monitoring and care. There are no antiviral medications to treat Coronavirus, and antibiotics are ineffective in treating viral infections.
For details on how to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, contact the Health District at https://www.snohd.org/484/Novel-Coronavirus-2019 or call 425-339-5200.
Concerns about the virus has led to some facilities closing temporarily, such as the Stillaguamish Senior Center.
The Health District said the most-effective preventative measures to help fight the spread of illness:
• Keep hands away from mouth, nose or eyes to avoid transferring germs
• Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like counters, light switches, doorknobs and remotes
• Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw tissue away and wash your hands
• If you feel stick, stay home and avoid close contact with others