(Left to right) ASL interpreter Terry Dockter, public health director Patty Hayes, communications director James Apa, and public health officer Jeffrey Duchin.

Image: Jane Sherman

We’ve seen our public officials a lot lately. At briefings televised and streaming online, viewers get an almost daily dose of King County executive Dow Constantine and governor Jay Inslee as they issue local coronavirus updates. But Dow’s been a high-profile fixture for more than a decade, and Inslee’s now so nationally ubiquitous, thanks to a presidential run, Americans know him as that climate guy in the glasses. There are other faces at and near the briefing podium, standing soundly six feet apart, of course. A supporting cast of communicators and health professionals have emerged. Here’s a quick primer on who’s who.

Terry Dockter

The American Sign Language interpreter who flanks speakers at briefings is a onetime performance poet and vintage car and motorcycle collector with the rockabilly mien to prove it. A Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter once observed a license plate holder on one of Dockter’s classic rides that chimed a worldview-demonstrative pun, “I’m not hard of hearing. I’m grateful Deaf.” 

Patty Hayes

The director of Public Health – Seattle & King County since 2015 is often coolest customer at the podium. Makes sense. She’s an RN who started her career on the nursing staff at West Seattle Hospital and possesses the kind of bedside manner at the dais that inducts one into the Washington State Nurses Hall of Fame, which happened to Hayes in 2002.   

Dr. Jeffrey Duchin

The UW Medicine professor doubles as the chief health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County. Dow may deliver the bad news regarding countywide measures, but it’s Duchin who delivers the epidemiological justification. Back in the '90s, Duchin, who investigated a number of maladies at the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was a go-to expert on the deadly mouse-poop scourge, hantavirus.

James Apa

Public Health’s svelte, bearded mouthpiece towers over the podium at the beginning of each session to introduce the agenda. Like Duchin, he’s not without rodential bone fides. The county’s lead health comms director since 2001, he once had to tell Seattleites to chill TFO about a menace far less pernicious than COVID-19: “Is anyone’s health in danger [from rats]? No,” he told The Seattle Times. “Is it something that needs to be addressed and are we addressing it? Yes.”

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