Calling the outbreak of COVID-19 a “genuine emergency,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said Thursday he was asking for emergency funding of more than $27 million to aid the county’s response. The funds, Constantine said, would include $6.1 million to address added costs taken on by Public Health – Seattle & King County; $19.5 million to buy and operate new quarantine facilities; $1.6 million for the Human Services Department to prepare existing homeless shelters to handle the outbreak; and $150,000 for outreach.
“We’re using general fund money, which is not plentiful and we’re going to have to sort it out later. We don’t have the luxury of waiting to ensure that we’re going to be reimbursed by the federal or state government,” Constantine said. “We just need to move.”
The request was sent to the Metropolitan King County Council on Thursday afternoon, Constantine’s office said, and the council is expected to take it up at their regular meeting Tuesday.
About $15 million will go to fund previously announced quarantine facilities — a motel the county has purchased in Kent and modular facilities in North Seattle, Interbay and the Top Hat neighborhood in White Center. An additional $4.5 million will be needed to operate those facilities.
In an interview with the Seattle Times editorial board (which operates independently of the newsroom), Constantine responded to pushback from some local leaders who had objected to quarantine facilities being created in their cities. Officials like Kent Mayor Dana Ralph, who protested the purchase of the motel, were, Constantine said, treating the virus like a typical land-use argument.
“This is a genuine emergency, we need to act together to take it on and the usual parochial squabbles and disconnects we have are not going to serve our public well,” Constantine said. “We don’t have time for our usual Seattle process.”
Constantine’s office said the Kent motel was the only facility on the market that was for sale and had separate entrances and a separate HVAC system for each room, which would help stem the spread of the virus.
The new facilities will not be medical treatment centers, but will be places for people who are infected or potentially infected and are unable to quarantine at home. That could include people experiencing homelessness or people who live in tight quarters, like dorms, and are worried about infecting those they live with.