Safe Start Washington: What you need to know
Is it over yet? That’s what everyone wants to know about Washington’s COVID-19 outbreak.
The short answer is no, it’s not over. While the restrictions that suddenly halted life as we’d known it in March have begun to ease over much of the state, things are not back to normal, and likely won’t be for months to come.
In fact, as more counties moved into Phase 2 of Washington’s Safe Start four-phase re-opening process, COVID-19 cases have begun to increase — significantly in some areas.
For example, in Pierce County, the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department confirmed 29 new cases in Pierce County on June 21 with a 14-day case rate per 100,000 of 26.5 — above the 25 cases per 100,000 requirement for Phase 2. Spokane County cases have also been on the rise since June, with spikes as high as 55 new cases in one day. On June 22, the Spokane Regional Health District reported 22 new cases for that day.
So, as we begin to step outside of our homes and interact with people, it’s natural to feel some trepidation, along with relief. The Safe Start Washington initiative means different counties are on different schedules for reopening, depending on factors such as case counts, testing and contact tracing capacity, and, perhaps most critically, hospital capacity.
But what does that mean for you? How should your behavior change, or not, as your county moves from phase to phase?
Counties currently in Phase 2 of the Safe Start re-opening process include King, Kitsap, Pierce, Snohomish and Spokane counties (Kitsap County has a pending Phase 3 application).
Here are seven tips on navigating Phase 2 and beyond:
1. If you are sick, stay home except to get any needed medical care.
You may have powered through school or work or gone shopping while suffering from a cold in the past. Nowadays, you don’t want to potentially spread COVID-19 in your community.
2. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, or have a known exposure to the virus, talk to a health care provider about whether getting tested for COVID-19 is the right next step for you.
Contact tracing of people with COVID-19 is one of the best tools health departments have to help combat the spread of COVID-19 and get us all back to normal. But it’s impossible to do without knowing who is sick. While testing was in short supply early on in the outbreak, counties that have moved to Phase 2 have proven they have sufficient testing capacity. Call your health care provider and ask about testing if you have any of these symptoms:
- Congestion or runny nose
- Fever or chills
- Muscle or body aches
- Nausea or vomiting
- New loss of taste or smell
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Sore throat
3. Staying home is still the safest bet.
That’s especially true if you or anyone in your household are in a group at higher risk for severe COVID-19. That means:
- People 65 years and older
- People of all ages with underlying medical conditions including chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma, serious heart conditions, immunocompromised, whether caused by disease, smoking, cancer treatments, or other immune-weakening conditions.
- People with severe obesity (defined as a body mass index of 40 or higher
- People with diabetes
- People with chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis
- People with liver disease.
Even if you don’t have any of those conditions, or spend time with people who do, you are still susceptible to COVID-19 infection. While many cases of this virus have been documented as mild, as a new virus, we cannot predict who will have mild illness and who will not. So everyone should carefully consider what activities are worth the risk of exposure.
One thing you definitely shouldn’t postpone is medical care. Whether your kids need immunizations or you’re due for a mammogram, make that appointment. Medical facilities have plenty of practice at infection control and your overall health is important.
4. Face coverings will now be required in public in Washington state, with certain exceptions (children under 2 shouldn’t wear masks).
As of Friday, June 26, a statewide order requires individuals to wear a face covering in indoor public spaces such as stores, offices and restaurants. The order also requires face coverings outdoors when you can't stay six feet apart from others. Exemptions are allowed for those with certain medical conditions and children under 5. You can read the details of the order on the Washington Coronavirus Reponse website.
COVID-19 is mostly passed from person to person through respiratory droplets. Wearing a mask can help slow the spread when proper distancing isn’t possible. You need a mask even if you aren’t sick, because COVID-19 can be spread even if you don’t have any symptoms. If you don’t have one already, the CDC has instructions on how to make them. There are dozens of other sites on the Internet that offer patterns, and many retailers now sell them.
5. Maintain physical distance.
In Phase 2, gatherings with up to five people per week outside of your household are allowed. Outdoors is safer than inside, so if you have decided to begin socializing outside of your household consider an outdoor picnic or barbeque with plenty of room to move, rather than a cozy dinner party. You should still try to maintain six-foot distancing and wear masks if you can’t. You can also enjoy outdoor activities like camping or hiking with up to five people outside of your household. Getting out and seeing some friends from a safe distance can help boost your mood, which has been shown to be good for your immune system.
6. Wash your hands!
As you leave the house more often in Phase 2, whether it’s for a haircut, a restaurant meal or to go to work, it’s more important than ever to wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds. Get in the habit of doing it before you eat, after using the restroom, every time you come home from being outside and any other time you think it makes sense. If you can’t get to soap and running water, use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. It’s also important to continue to avoid touching your face when you are out in public.
7. Keep disinfecting high-touch surfaces.
If everyone in your household spent the first three months of the outbreak inside your home, you probably weren’t too concerned about disinfecting light switches and doorknobs. But as people start venturing out more, the possibility for bringing germs home return. Keep the whole household safer by disinfecting those surfaces daily.
Finally, while some counties in the state have already moved to Phase 3, or are eligible to apply for the next phase of re-opening, these tips will continue to apply, especially as we continue to see more positive COVID-19 cases throughout our state.
We encourage everyone to stay up to date on the latest virus activity in their region. Visit the Washington State Department of Health website for updates. Your local health department website will also provide current information on your county. For updates on county status for re-opening, visit Washington State’s Corona Virus Response website.
About The Author
Cheryl Reid-Simons is a freelance writer and serial community volunteer. In her spare time, she drives a private activities shuttle for her twin sons, healthy graduates of the Tacoma General NICU and interim care nursery. More stories by this author