King County Coronavirus Hotline Not Actively Taking Violation Reports

by Carolyn Bick


Anyone calling the King County coronavirus hotline to report a violation of the current restrictions on non-essential businesses might be met with disappointment: according to three different representatives who answered the phone this week, the hotline isn’t meant to take reports, and it is unclear how people may report certain violations.

King County set up the hotline in the beginning of March, in order for the public to call in with concerns and questions about COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus that has swept the globe. Washington State appears to be at the center of the outbreak in the United States, and, on March 16, Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee announced an emergency proclamation that placed restrictions on non-essential services and businesses, and limited gathering sizes through March 31, effective immediately. This was meant to stop the spread of the disease, which is easily passed from person to person, particularly in close quarters.

Despite this order, as of Tuesday, March 17, the hotline is not taking reports of violations, such as non-essential businesses like gyms and cinemas remaining open, when they should not be. When asked why, the representatives all said that they weren’t equipped to take reports, at this time. One representative said it is because the hotline is currently only for triaging potential coronavirus cases.

They all offered an email address, coronavirus@kingcounty.gov, to report gatherings of more than 50 people. The only option when it comes to reporting business violations is this King County webpage. However, one representative said, until someone from the county government does something about the report, the business in question may continue to operate.

While this same representative said concerned citizens could also call the number listed on the webpage, that number takes callers to the King County Services Directory Line. Option three will take callers to the Seattle and King County Public Health Department’s main line. The representative who answers the phone will direct callers explicitly asking to report violations to the coronavirus hotline. Callers trying to get their coronavirus questions answered have run into this circle, too.

When used, the email address sends back an auto-reply: “Thank you for contacting Public Health – Seattle & King County. We are receiving a large volume of inquiries related to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus and will respond to your questions as quickly as possible.”

It then lists several related resources, including the Washington State coronavirus hotline.

The Seattle Police Department’s South Precinct non-emergency hotline’s responding officer on the evening of March 17 said the department couldn’t do anything either, because, according to him, there is no law that would define keeping a business open as criminal, despite it putting people’s lives in danger.

Neither representatives from King County nor the Seattle Police Department were immediately available for comment. The Emerald has sent emails and placed phone calls to both King County and the Seattle Police Department requesting comment on the matter.

UPDATE:

As of March 18, it appears King County still has no system in place to actively address violations. In response to the Emerald’s query, the Department of Public Health’s Public Information Officer Norm Mah responded with this press release, which states that the Department of Public Health believes that all citizens will follow the law, and that they do not need to look for violations.
Numerous reports from other cities across the country and around the world have shown that, despite warnings and pleas from their lawmakers, citizens are continuing to act normally, including going out to crowded public places, and patronizing restaurants and fitness centers.

Carolyn Bick is a South Seattle based journalist. Reach Carolyn here.

Featured image belongs to the public domain

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