By Bruce A. Smith
Friday, March 6, 2020
Since the world is freaking out about the Covid-19 virus, I thought I share a perspective on what is happening here in Washington.
To begin, the epicenter of the outbreak in Washington – and the initial site for the country – has been the Seattle suburb of Kirkland, which is about ten miles northeast of downtown, and about sixty miles due north of my home in Eatonville. In Kirkland, the hot spot is a nursing home-type of facility for seniors. Many of those residents have Covid-19, and about a dozen have died as of this morning. Overall, fourteen deaths have been reported in WA as of this afternoon.
Oddly, there is nothing being mentioned in the media about “regular” flu, aka “Seasonal Flu,” which kills 18,000 Americans on average each year. That’s about 300 deaths in Washington every year. So, the anxiety over Covid-19 is exceptional, I think. But it’s very real. The UW closed its campus today – and that’s something like 50,000 students over four campuses.
Interestingly, the City of Auburn is shutting down all public gathering places, too, such as movie theaters. Auburn is halfway between me and Kirkland, so it’s not that close to where folks are ill with Covid-19. Not sure why Auburn is taking this step.
No cases nor deaths have been reported in Tacoma and points south, such as Vancouver, WA.
VP Pence was in town yesterday, and he basically gave everyone a pep talk. But the feds are sending in a super-duper relief team to the Kirkland nursing home – 30 docs plus RNs and techs, so the regular staff can go home and rest. Also, many residents are being sent home on a case-by-case basis with lots of supplemental in-home care provided by WA State health agencies.
In addition, about half of the Kirkland Fire and Rescue Department are reported to be home on voluntary two-week isolation due to their many exposures at the local nursing home. I’m assuming that adjoining districts are sharing the extra load of emergency responses. Speaking of which, 911 dispatchers now ask if the callers are experiencing flu-like symptoms, such as fevers, coughs and sneezes.
The overall mood of folks around here is a “wait and see” attitude, and the global anxiety is a bit surprising to me – airplanes flying at one-third capacity, etc. But there are enough outbreaks, such as Italy and South Korea, to add substance to that urgency.
On a personal level, I’m living my usual routine, but when I’m in public I’m washing my hands frequently – basically after I touch anything that is in common usage, such as a door handle. I’m not wearing a mask since I’m not coughing or sneezing, nor do I see anyone else wearing one. After years of asthma and dealing with forest fire smoke I have four different types of masks, ranging from N-95 particulate masks to a dual-stage respirator. So, I’m ready in that regard, but I know they only provide a degree of safety – not actual 100% safety. So, I keep my distance from people, and avoid large, crowded gatherings, such as casinos, bus stations, theaters.
I went to Tacoma last night for a musical gig and rush-hour traffic on the I-5 at 5:30 pm was really light, akin to 8 am on a Sunday, so folks are staying home.
March 7, 2020, midnight
A few more tidbits:
WA State offices in Olympia started sending employees home today, saying that they’ll be telecommuting come Monday, with no end date established.
I’ve asked my doc for a corona virus test but he has refused so far, saying that I don’t fit the current requirements, ie: fever, cough and sneezing, feeling crummy. All this, too, after I’ve had two different strains of Bronchitis diagnosed this winter, plus a third “something viral” in mid-February that gave me epic coughing fits and a sore throat that felt like liquid fire. In my view, THEY should’ve come looking for me to test!
The bigger question is where I would get tested. My local hospital, Good Sam in Puyallup – where I had my heart attack fixed eight years ago – has only tested one person so far in this episode. More troubling, Propublica posted a great article on the Covid 19 testing nationwide, and they estimate that at a maximum only 3,500 Americans per day can get tested as of today. It’s a bottleneck of available test kits, labs set up for the testing, and having trained techs ready to go. It’s my understanding that UW Med in Seattle can only do a couple dozen tests a day. This is gonna be a real big problem very shortly.
Pierce County, the county just south of Seattle and home to Tacoma, reported its first Covid-19 in a suburb called Gig Harbor. The patient is a 50-year old male that hasn’t been anywhere in the past few weeks other than going to the grocery store. Local CDC detectives are reportedly following this case closely.
Tacoma General Hospital accepted its first Covid transfer – from Kirkland, which is Ground Zero for USA-Covid. Not sure how Kirkland got so lucky as the first Covid patient got discovered and diagnosed at Sea-Tac in January after he had just flown in from Wuhan, China.
Local health officials are reporting that they have discovered there are at least two different strains of Covid 19. Whew….
Update, Sunday March 8, 2020
Traffic in Pierce County this weekend, particularly around the malls and in the grocery stores is like the weekend before Christmas – PACKED. It’s as if everyone got released from work and decided to go shopping. More troubling, none of the grocery and retail store clerks I saw took any safety precautions – they did not wipe their hands or sanitize them between every transaction. Thus, microbes from every single container touched by one shopper were transferred eventually to every other shopper behind them in line. Further, I have yet to see one single person in Washington wear a face mask. I don’t wear one either because I’m less concerned about what I breath than what I touch. I am washing my hands after every incidence of touching anything public, such as a door handle. Everyone seems respectful of distances, and when they cough, they do so into their sleeve.
My theatrical rehearsals in Puyallup went on this past weekend as scheduled. Most of my colleagues are cavalier or blasé about Covid. The folks from Seattle feel they are bullet-proof since they’ve been dealing with Covid safety for the past month.
Ironically, a small number of cast members told me that they too have had serious “virus-something” illnesses since December, and we began openly talking about the fact that we may have had Covid back then and had it misdiagnosed as a “bronchitis,” a cold, or something “seasonal.”
Media is beginning to pick-up that they have been manipulated by health officials and politicians who gain by downplaying the extent of the Covid epidemic. Since so few people have been tested due to profound lack of testing supplies, labs and techs, media are realizing that by reporting only “confirmed” cases they are distorting the reality of the epidemic. They are probably thousands of untested – and thus unconfirmed – cases roaming around. Covid may have been around for months and we’re just now identifying it.
Local news: More deaths in Kirkland. Confirmed cases of Covid are now reported in Pierce County and four other counties in Washington State. WA Gov Jay Insley revealed on Meet the Press today that he is considering mandatory lockdowns and quarantines.
My doctor’s clinic finally contacted me on their own initiative, but did not offer a Covid test until I meet the aforementioned CDC criteria of fever, coughs and chills, sneezing, and feeling crummy. Actually, I personally feel better today than I have since before December, 2019.
My blackjack parties for this week have been canceled, and they have been a major source of my income. Money concerns are beginning to trouble me.
Most local colleges have shut down. Storytelling open mics and festivals for the month have been canceled.
National News – Covid is now in half the states, with deaths reported in many areas of the country. Media now consider California to be the new epicenter, particularly since the latest cruise ship debacle, Crown Princess with only a few dozen people have been tested despite a 50% contamination rate, is scheduled to dock in Oakland.
Bruce A. Smith, author
The pix below is from my cousin Julie in DC who responded to this Covid report with a little light-hearted commentary. Good to see that many folks are maintaining their sense of humor.