Emergency Manager's Report to City Council on COVID-19 (January 19, 2021)

Andrew Stevens, CEM - Emergency Manager - Eastside Fire & Rescue

Good evening Mayor, Councilmembers, and City Manager.

One year ago, the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the United States, just north of us in Snohomish County. One year later COVID-19 continues to spread like wildfire across the nation and has resulted in over 400,000 fatalities and one in every 14 Americans being infected. More than 200 Americans die every minute yet every day I still see or hear debates over the severity of this pandemic or the need to continue to comply with COVID-19 mitigations. While most areas of the county are struggling under the massive increases in cases and hospitalizations following the holiday peak, statistics for King County are beginning to trend downward, hopefully highlighting that the worst of the current surge is over. That does not mean that restrictions should be lifted, or it is now safe to socialize outside of your families. It simply means that we are finally seeing numbers lower to pre-Thanksgiving rates again, however, they are still higher than any of the months prior to last November.

The bulk of what I would like to discuss this evening is around vaccinations, as there is still a lot of concern over eligibility and access from many in the community. First and foremost, the Governor recently made modifications to the State’s vaccination phases and raised the state to Phase 1B, Tier 1. This change, along with the revisions, means that healthcare professionals, high-risk responders, long-term care facility residents, and other workers in health care settings are eligible. The recent changes also opened vaccination eligibility to all individuals 65 years old or greater and people 50 and over who live in multi-generational housing. The State has also released a new COVID-19 dashboard, which besides offering insights into statewide case count, hospitalizations, deaths, and testing, is now offering vaccination data broken down by County.

The situation around vaccines and their distribution is ever-evolving. In fact, just this evening I discovered that several QFCs in the region are now providing the vaccine, including the QFC in Klahanie. This was not communicated to me by any public health official, I was reviewing the list of facilities available on the Washington State Department of Health website and noticed the recent additions. Some of the frustrations and confusion we are encountering is centered around understanding one’s eligibility, navigating the web-based platforms, and booking appointments for the vaccine if you are eligible. The State’s primary tool for doing this, Phase Finder, has been encountering technical issues since its release and often crashes. When the tool is operational, it guides users through a series of questions confirming eligibility, urges users to take a screenshot of their status, and then provides a list of sites where the vaccine is available. However, many are also encountering issues with scheduling their appointments through these third party sites or finding that the providers are booked out for several weeks to come or already fully reserved. Individuals who are having trouble accessing or managing the Phase Finder tool are urged to work directly with their healthcare providers or to call 1-800-525-0127, the King County COVID Assistance Line, for assistance.

Understandably, the rollout of the State’s vaccination program has been frustrating to many, but with stronger federal support, greater collaboration and public-private partnerships, and plans to open larger mass vaccination sites, should hopefully result in more vaccines being distributed to those who need them most.

Due to the lack of centralized communication from State and County Public health officials, there is also widespread confusion over the role local jurisdictions should be playing in the establishment of vaccination distribution sites. Unfortunately, the selection of where these vaccination sites are and who is eligible to be a vaccination provider is in the hands of state and county officials, not local jurisdictions. While the county has plans to establish multiple vaccination sites throughout the county, it has not been communicated where or exactly when these sites will be up and running. King County will be aiming to provide as many vaccinations as possible to already approved providers and the soon to be established mass vaccination site in south King County.

While this is unfortunate, it is also subject to change, and that is why we are proactively leaning forward. The City of Sammamish has identified potential Community Points of Distribution (CPOD) and is revising plans to accommodate the additional COVID-19 vaccine protocols. We have trained volunteers and staff in the operations of such sites, which have already been exercised and practiced during our earlier mask distribution event. Eastside Fire and Rescue is working tirelessly to ensure that our firefighters and EMTs are trained to administer the COVID-19 vaccine and operate mobile vaccination clinics. We are communicating with partners, neighboring jurisdictions, community stakeholders, and coordinating several times a week with public health officials. When information changes the City’s communications team provides these updates to the public through a well-established outreach strategy that includes social media, email blasts, printed newsletters, and regular maintenance of the COVID-19 Information page on Connect Sammamish, the City’s go-to informational hub for the pandemic for the past 11 months. So, while there remain roadblocks in the city’s ability to establish its own vaccination sites, your continued advocacy may open doors to greater vaccination availability to our residents and our preparedness will ensure the ability and readiness to complete the mission when it comes.

As with every report, I will end with a brief update regarding CARES Act funding that was specifically earmarked for COVID-19 response and recovery expenses. The City has spent roughly $1.9 million of the $2.9 million that was reimbursed to the City. That includes roughly $163K on emergency protective measures and 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.

With that, I would be happy to address any questions you may have. Thank you.

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This project was archived. 

Please visit https://kingcounty.gov/depts/health.aspx for the latest COVID-19 information. 

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