Two recent decisions suggest that, after weeks of chasing the steadily spreading coronavirus, state leaders might be getting traction in an aggressive response to the problem.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order and appointment of retired Navy Vice Admiral Raquel C. Bono as state director for COVID-19 Health System Response Management could signal an important shift in Washington’s strategy, which has at times seemed to lag.
Officials have been playing catch-up since the coronavirus struck Puget Sound with a vengeance. Take, for example, the delay and confusion that enabled coronavirus’ rampant spread through Kirkland’s Life Care Center, as detailed by a Seattle Times investigation. Or continued struggles to secure adequate supplies of tests, medical equipment and protective gear.
As health officials have rushed to implement public-health policies intended to slow the pandemic, individuals and businesses have stepped into the breach: ramping up manufacturing of lifesaving ventilators; sewing medical masks and gowns at home or in shops idled by the virus; putting distilleries to work making hand sanitizer; 3D printing face guards.
But these inspirational examples of people helping people cannot replace an aggressive systemwide, coordinated response.
Bono previously was director of the Defense Health Agency, where she oversaw the integration of Army, Navy and Air Force medical systems. As health system response management director, she will work to fortify and align the state’s medical resources, including ventilators, hospital beds, personnel and protective equipment.
The state’s hospitals are not yet running out of room for people in need of inpatient treatment, but many models predict a surge in patients that could overwhelm the system without careful planning, Bono said Tuesday. Shrewder management will help ensure optimal use of limited assets and smart allocation of new resources, including placement of field hospitals and other nontraditional medical settings.
One of Bono’s top priorities will be developing the state’s capacity for widespread testing and surveillance to track and slow the virus’ spread.
Bono’s expertise is reassuring. Delivering on her stated commitment to transparency is crucial. Most Washingtonians’ greatest contributions to the fight against this pandemic so far have consisted of staying home in relative isolation, trying to make sense of national leaders’ often conflicting messages. They will be reassured to know decisive, data- and science-driven action is being taken to halt this insidious disease.
Gov. Inslee deserves credit for giving Washingtonians a chance to voluntarily slow coronavirus’ spread by social distancing. Many people grasped the seriousness of the situation and complied; those who didn’t unnecessarily put lives at risk. His decision to close all nonessential business and direct people to curtail their movement was necessary.
Without dramatic change, Washington faces a dim landscape: Actions taken to date appear to have led to modest reduction in the rate of infection in some parts of the state, but the total number of COVID-19 cases continues to double weekly. More than 250 people with coronavirus symptoms were hospitalized during the third week in March.
Federal nursing-home regulators cited Life Care Center of Kirkland for failing to quickly identify and respond to the respiratory ailment. At least 23 Washington nursing homes have reported cases of COVID-19, as The Times has reported. They include the Shuksan Healthcare Center skilled-nursing facility in Bellingham, which has reported at least 32 cases of coronavirus among its staff and patients.
It is time to take the fight to the next level, striking back at the pandemic that has hit Washington so hard.