In January, Washington state made headlines around the world when a Snohomish County man received the first U.S. diagnosis of novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19. Though this information was troubling given the reports of a rampant outbreak in China, a sunnier bit of news a month later offered a bit of solace: The 35-year-old man hospitalized at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett had fully recovered from the virus which, in some cases, leads to pneumonia.
Now, we've learned over one concerning weekend that the virus may have spread throughout the state during those intervening weeks. Over the past several days, a handful of King County residents have died from COVID-19, and 14 total cases have been confirmed, by far the most of any U.S. state. A COVID-19 isn't a death sentence, mind you. Underlying health conditions have contributed to some of the fatalities, and many patients in China have only experienced mild symptoms. But on a broad scale, COVID-19 is a severe threat to our public health.
Local and state officials are treating it that way. Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency on Saturday, and King County executive Dow Constantine signed an emergency declaration today to help the county fight the virus; among other measures, a motel to house patients in active treatment and recovery will be purchased. And some Seattle-area schools have closed as a precaution.
Taken together, all this King County coronavirus news indicates that our regional response to this crisis will receive special scrutiny as other states report more cases in the coming days and weeks. Beyond local and national health authorities' efforts to test and contain this virus, here are some basic things you can do to help stop its spread.
Stay home if you experience symptoms. Fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath—pretty common things during any flu season—are all symptoms of this coronavirus. Having them doesn't necessarily mean you have the virus, but it's better to determine that at home than in Conference Room B. Embrace the video call, office warrior. Or, if you can't work remotely, use some of that sick leave you've been hoarding. Even the toughest of bosses shouldn't bat an eye.
Don't rush to the emergency room. Contact your doctor before shifting any resources away from those who need care most urgently.
Ride responsibly. Yes, light rail rider, you have permission to move away from the guy coughing behind you. Sound Transit is one of the agencies promoting "social distancing." "It’s not rude to get up and move if you need to," a Sound Transit blog noted. Also, guy coughing behind you, avoid public transit if you're experiencing symptoms.
Don't touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. This is legitimately difficult for some people, but it's a common way viruses spread.
Wash your hands! This should not be difficult.