Seattle area public-health officials are “at the ready” to start ordering involuntary isolation and quarantines and are considering cancellation of major public events, with information coming soon, a top official said Monday.
Patty Hayes, director of Public Health — Seattle & King County, outlined potential next steps in the area’s effort to slow the spread of the virus at a Seattle City Council meeting and said officials are talking about what to do.
Hayes shared a Washington State Department of Health chart that listed five levels of actions that officials could take. Gov. Jay Inslee hinted at the ongoing discussions Sunday on the CBS show “Face the Nation,” saying the state’s response could involve “reducing the number of social activities that are going on.”
Although King County’s first confirmed COVID-19 case was announced less than two weeks ago, the area’s response already has ratcheted through Level 1 and Level 2.
Level 1 involves asking residents to take precautions such as increasing hand washing and staying at home when sick. Level 2 involves voluntary isolation of sick people and voluntary quarantines of people who have contacted those who are sick.
Level 3 would involve involuntary isolation of sick people and involuntary quarantines of people who have contacted those who are sick. Health officers could issue emergency detention orders or seek court orders for involuntary detention to involuntarily isolate or quarantine people who are uncooperative, according to the chart.
“We’ve moved into the second level … We are at the ready to institute the third level,” Hayes said. “We haven’t had to do this because our public has been extremely compliant … But the health officer does have the authority to involuntarily isolate or quarantine individuals.”
King County has been working to open emergency isolation facilities at a motel in Kent and inside modular housing units in White Center, Interbay and North Seattle.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold asked how officials plan to ensure “people are made comfortable enough so they want to stay and you don’t have to move toward emergency detention orders.” She wondered whether food drop-offs and daily visits from doctors would be adequate.
Officials hope every person isolated will have a working cellphone to call for help and to communicate with the outside world, Hayes said.
“In the past we made sure that was so,” she said. “We want them to be able to call.”
Hayes said Public Health has experience isolating people with tuberculosis involuntarily and is applying best practices to the new situation. “There have been times we’ve had to go find an individual” who has left isolation and detain the person, she said. “But as you said, it is really the last resort.”
Level 4 would involve officials ordering cancellations of major public and large private gatherings and closings of schools, child-care facilities and workplaces, according to the matrix.
“The Level 4 is the one where we’re really in a lot of conversations with all our other public-health colleagues and the CDC,” Hayes said, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “I think we’re going to have more information for you this week on that.”
Level 5 would involve a “cordon sanitaire”similar to recent action in Italy. Officials would issue orders halting nonemergency travel and telling people to remain indoors.
“We are hoping to never have to get to that point here, by all the strategies we’re taking,” Hayes said.