Emergency Manager's Report to City Council on COVID-19 (February 2, 2021)
Andrew Stevens, CEM - Emergency Manager -Eastside Fire & Rescue
Good evening Mayor, Council members, and City Manager.
Lots to discuss on the COVID-19 front this evening, but I’ll begin with a brief global, national, and regional update. Across the world, there have been over 103 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, with the United States accounting for more than a quarter of that total figure with 26.4 million cases and nearly 450K fatalities. Across Washington, there have been 313K cases and over 4,300 fatalities. King County is reporting 77K positive cases, 4,815 COVID-19 hospitalizations, and 1,264 deaths. Lastly, the City of Sammamish has reported 965 positives cases and 8 fatalities.
While nothing about the beforementioned statistics sounds promising, the good news is that in many areas we are seeing sharp decreases in COVID-related case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths from the dramatic surge experienced over the holiday season. In King County, for example, seven-day averages for positive cases dropped 50% between Jan. 1st and 31st, and the seven-day average for deaths was down 71% from Jan 1 as well. This is great news, not only to the general population but to the healthcare systems that were struggling to stay afloat during the surge.
Changes were also recently made to the Governor’s Healthy Washington plan, the evaluation criteria for regions to move from Phase 1 to Phase 2, as well as the timeframe in which regions can advance were modified. With the changes, the Puget Sound region, which encompasses King, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties progressed to Phase 2. Phase 2 allows for some lessening of non-pharmaceutical COVID-19 mitigations. For example, indoor dining is now available however limited to 25% of normal capacity.
While the region’s advancement to Phase 2 will come as a welcome relief to many, I would strongly caution any change to anyone’s COVID-19 precautions. With new, highly contagious strains of COVID-19 now being transmitted in the region, now is not the time to lay down your guard and partake in activities that increase your likelihood of exposure. We have all seen dips in COVID transmission rates resulting in complacency in COVID-19 protections, which in turn leads to another surge. Countless experts warned that relaxing COVID-19 mitigations prior to the holiday season would result in a catastrophic resurge in the pandemic, and that is exactly what happened. So, while it is ok to celebrate these advances and small victories, I urge Sammamish residents and anyone else listening to continue to prioritize your safety and the safety of others in every choice you make.
The last two weeks have led to advancements in the availability of vaccinations as well. Across the region we are seeing more and more medical care providers gaining access to COVID vaccine. We are seeing distribution at medical facilities, such as hospitals and pharmacies, as well as pop-up clinics hosted through public-private partnerships.
The County has also begun operation of two mass vaccination sites, in Auburn and Kent. These sites will initially be able to deliver 500 vaccines per day and scale up to accommodate greater capacity as time goes on and access to vaccine becomes greater. Because of the massive amount of need these sites have limited operations to those 75 and over, and reservations have either been filled or are nearly fully booked at this time.
Waiting for the infrastructure needed to support widespread vaccination efforts to be constructed by others is not doing residents of Sammamish and other Eastside communities justice. To proactively engage in these efforts, the City of Sammamish has joined a collaborative, public-private partnership with the City of Issaquah, Eastside Fire and Rescue, Swedish Healthcare, the Issaquah School District, and Costco. The goal of this partnership is to ensure that vaccines are delivered to our communities in a safe, equitable, and timely manner. We are tackling the vaccination operations through multiple approaches to ensure those objectives will be met. These efforts include mobile vaccination teams, a pedestrian mass vaccination site, and a vehicular mass vaccination site.
Eastside Fire has established mobile vaccination teams that will be deploying this week. EFR personnel have received training and the logistical/operational capability to deploy mobile vaccination teams to vulnerable populations. EFR will begin vaccination efforts tomorrow in Issaquah, and Sammamish on Thursday. Currently, the teams are focusing on deploying to adult care facilities that have not been able to partner with medical care providers (such as pharmacies) for the in-house delivery of vaccines. EFR will be expanding these efforts as time grows and will be utilizing the mobility of the teams to target vulnerable populations who may otherwise have difficulty navigating or access vaccine through an established point of dispensing. Human services personnel from each jurisdiction will be coordinating with these teams to identify and schedule vaccine delivery to the most vulnerable populations.
The partnership is also in the operational planning phase of a pedestrian mass vaccination site capable of delivering hundreds of vaccinations per day at Issaquah High School. This effort is a massive undertaking, utilizing considerable personnel, volunteers, and resources provided by Swedish Healthcare. Operational and logistical planning is still underway; however, the Task Force is aiming to conduct a functional exercise on location soon.
Lastly, I have been tasked with overseeing the development and operation of a long-term mass vaccination site. A drive-through operation was agreed upon by the partners to simplify the logistical strain required by Task Force partners and provide for greater scalability as vaccine eligible phases are opened. The proposed strategy is to design a modular system capable of providing 500, reservation based, vaccinations per every 2 lanes, based upon the King County run mass vaccination site estimates. We are currently identifying the personnel and logistical needs for such operations, as well as conducting site visits of potential POD locations. Our current objective for standing up this operation is March 1 with the site potentially operational for many months.
I would like to reiterate to both the Council and to the public listening, that currently, only the mobile vaccination teams have a dedicated source of COVID-19 vaccinations, and even that is limited. However, the Task Force is operating under the assumption that we will be able to secure the vaccine allocations from the State and King County once we have demonstrated our commitment and capability to deliver mass vaccinations to our communities. We must show that we have the infrastructure in place before we will ever stand a chance of obtaining the amount of vaccine required for such operations. This is no different from the response and recovery operations of more traditional disasters. By definition, a disaster is when you have more problems than resources to deal with them, but eventually, those resources come flooding in and those tasked with managing the crisis better be ready to accept them. With COVID, our problem is the virus and vaccines are the resources in high demand. Eleven months ago, it was PPE. However, the operational objectives set out by this partnership will ensure that Eastside communities will be ready and able to provide vaccines the moment the supply is there.
Through every step of the way, City staff and partners will be ensuring the public is informed and access to vaccine will be well communicated. The partnership is utilizing a joint information system to provide “one-voice” messaging to all partners involved to ensure broad public outreach and involvement throughout these efforts. The City will continue to be utilizing the Connect Sammamish COVID-19 platform, as well as a variety of other media, to provide timely information to your residents.
Regarding operational funding, vaccine-related operations are reimbursable to local governments through FEMA Disaster Assistance, and I will be designing the operations to best capture those eligible costs. We currently are operating under the assumption that vaccine-related expenses will be reimbursable at 75%; however, there has been preliminary communication from the federal government hinting that vaccine-related expenses may be reimbursable at 100%. That being said, the City still has roughly $1 million remaining in CARES Act reimbursements that are earmarked for COVID-19 response and recovery, a portion of which could be earmarked for vaccine distribution operations. To date, the City has spent roughly $1.9 million of the $2.9 million that was reimbursed to the City. That includes roughly $168K on internal COVID-19 expenses, $215K on I.T. expenses necessary to ensure continuity of government, $1,211,000 in two rounds of small business and non-profit grants, and $315K to support human service organizations assisting those impacted.
As you can see, there are many moving pieces and partners involved in ensuring our communities are well served through this response. I would like to thank the residents for their continued patience, as well as the Council for their continued support.
With that, I would be happy to address any questions you may have. Thank you.