$100 million sought from state Legislature for coronavirus response

More than 200 people under public health supervision in state

OLYMPIA — Public health officials have asked the state Legislature for $100 million for a coordinated response to the coronavirus outbreak in the state.

Department of Health Secretary John Wiesman said Monday that the state is 42 days into its response to the outbreak and there have been 18 confirmed cases of the virus in King and Snohomish counties.

By Monday, six people had died of the virus in Western Washington.

According to Wiesman, 231 people were under public health supervision as of Monday for displaying symptoms.

Wiesman said this is a “very dynamic situation, moving very quickly,” and right now the focus is on slowing the spread of the virus so the already strained health care systems can keep up.

Recently the Centers for Disease Control has developed a testing kit that allows for one-day results.

Wiesman said the state has the capacity to test about 100 people a day using the kits but expects up to 5 million tests to be available nationwide in the coming weeks.

Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, pointed out that each testing kit currently costs $2,500.

Wiesman said local health departments are on the front lines of the issue. He said localities are covering the cost with the expectation of being reimbursed in the future. He said about $3.5 million has been spent in response to the viral outbreak so far.

Wiesman said projected costs of the outbreak are difficult to predict because officials still do not know how long the outbreak will last.

Wiesman requested $100 million in the next biennium for the public health system and to help increase hospital capacity in the event of an infection surge.

Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Pierce County, proposed Senate Bill 6696 on Monday, hours before the fiscal cutoff, which would grant the $100 million requested for outbreak response from the state’s emergency rainy day fund.

“A public health crisis is exactly the kind of event that justifies dipping into the ‘rainy day fund,’ ” O’Ban said in a written statement. “We want to act quickly to make sure response and recovery efforts are not delayed by a lack of funding.”

Wiesman said information is still being collected and studied by health experts to understand how the disease spreads, but he said the coronavirus has on average a five-day incubation period between when the virus is contracted and when symptoms appear.

Wiesman said the elderly, extremely young and those with underlying health issues will be the most adversely affected populations, similar to influenza.

He also said the virus can live on surfaces and, with perfect temperature and humidity conditions, could live on a surface for a few days. This raises the risk of port workers contracting the virus from an item or surface shipped from overseas.

Jaime Bodden, managing director at the Washington State Association of Local Public Health Officials, said the state’s response will have to be coordinated between local, tribal, state and federal agencies and health departments.

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction reported at least 14 schools are temporarily closed due to outbreak concerns.

“We can succeed in this if we make our decisions based off of calm confidence that is based on science and rational thought,” Gov. Jay Inslee said at a press conference Monday.

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This story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington State Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation.

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