by Carolyn Bick
In an effort to better support people who either are or may be infected with the novel coronavirus who would not be able to quarantine themselves at home without risking financial hardship, Public Health – Seattle & King County will be rolling out a financial support program for people infected with the novel coronavirus.
The program has not yet been formally announced, but Public Health – Seattle & King County (PHSKC) Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin briefly talked about it in a press conference on Nov. 6, as he was answering the Emerald’s question about the driving factors behind the rapid and concerning rise in COVID-19 cases in South King County, and how — aside from encouraging behavior modification — PHSKC plans to try to combat this rise.
Duchin said PHSKC has been providing grocery support for families in need since the outset of the pandemic in the spring, and hopes PHSKC’s financial support program will be equally as successful. Duchin said the program will provide “financial support to allow them to stay home … if they are infected with COVID-19 … and not have to go into the community, and risk infecting coworkers.”
“We also want to provide that income support to people who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, and are not yet ill, so they can complete the quarantine period without undue financial burden,” Duchin said. “We understand the pressure that people are under, and they need income. … We would love to continue to expand that program of income supports to as many people as needed, and will be very interested to see how the uptake is and how it goes, as we roll it out in the next week or so.”
Later in the day on Nov. 6, PHSKC gave the Emerald some more specifics about the financial relief program, which they said will be funded through the federal CARES Act. PHSKC said the workers who will be eligible for the program will be limited to those who meet as-yet unspecified income requirements, don’t get other benefits, and don’t get paid time off.
Since the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Communities of Color have been disproportionately impacted by the virus and the consequences of COVID-19, the disease the virus causes, due to several compounding factors, including systemic racism, which can have many faces. Duchin said these factors also include an increased likelihood that People of Color will hold jobs considered essential — jobs like grocery store workers, agricultural workers, or pharmacy employees — and that Communities of Color tend to live in larger, multi-generational households with many family members who, as previously mentioned, work in an essential industry.
As of this writing, King County as a whole has hit what Duchin called “a new peak” of an average of 308 new cases per day, a fourfold rise since late September and more than 100 cases per day than the initial outbreak in the spring. As of the morning of Nov. 6, there have been a total of 29,465 cases of novel coronavirus infections, and the county’s 14-day incidence rate is 155 cases per 100,000 people, as of Nov. 3, “and is expected to increase,” Duchin said.
The countywide positivity rate has increased from about 2 percent in September to about 3.5 percent most recently, which Duchin said reflects an increasing transmission rate. The positivity rate is the highest in South and Southeast King County, and is “highest among young and working-age adults” and that “70 percent of our cases are in the 20-60-year age range.”
As of the afternoon of Nov. 5, cases of COVID-19 appear to be concentrated in South King County. Using the Geography tab on PHSKC’s COVID-19 case tracker dashboard — updated daily between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Pacific Time — the Emerald found that cases per 100,000 people in South King County’s most populated areas number in the several thousand in the area’s different communities, significantly outstripping more northern areas of the county, including Seattle.
For instance, the SeaTac/Tukwila area currently has the highest number of cases, at 3,002.2 cases per 100,000 residents. The area is followed closely by Federal Way-Central/Military Road, which has 2,648.2 cases per 100,000 residents, and North Highline with 2,605.1 cases per 100,000 residents.
In contrast, the most infected areas in central and northern King County are Shoreline, with 1,211.6 cases per 100,000 residents and Downtown Seattle, with 1,117.4 cases per 100,000 residents.
In addition to the financial relief program PHSKC will be rolling out in the coming weeks, Duchin said that PHSKC has hired “many, many” contact tracing staff who not only represent the communities from which they come, but also have the appropriate language skills. He said PHSKC is also using community navigators, and hiring trusted community members who can disseminate the necessary information, as well as do outreach and provide different materials to help educate their communities about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19.
“We are up to 33 languages now that we are able to do COVID education in. We are also in the process of distributing [$500,000] to community-based agencies to address racial inequities through this type of engagement and education,” Duchin said. “This will be focusing on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in South King County. We are working through 50 community-based organizations that serve these priority populations. For example, risk reduction materials we have distributed in SeaTac and Tukwila for the East African community recently.”
In encouraging behavior modifications, Duchin emphasized that people need to think about others, before they engage in risky behavior, such as going out without a mask or gathering indoors — because, masked or not, indoor gatherings are dangerous. The Emerald would like to remind readers that the people who suffer the most might not be right there next to people who are doing these things, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t suffer as a consequence of these poor and selfish decisions.
As Duchin said, towards the end of his answer to the Emerald: “In every health emergency, like a natural disaster, we always … realize that the disproportionate burden falls upon people who are already experiencing health disparities. Yet, each time, we are faced with the same issue again, and I hope that this experience leads us to act with more sustainable solutions to address the structural issues that place these communities at risk in the first place.”
Featured image is a screenshot of the geographic distribution of COVID-19 cases throughout King County as of Nov. 5, 2020 at 1 p.m. The text at the bottom reads, “Overall King County rate of positive cases: 1,323.5 per 100,000 residents.”