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Monday, July 13, 2020

Is now too early to reopen?

Washington state enters its ninth week of lockdown, some are demanding the state reopen

By Kyle Tubbs

After weeks of lockdowns all over the United States, some states are starting to lift restrictions, however, returning to normal may prove to still be a distant goal.

On May 1, Gov. Jay Inslee extended Washington state’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order through May 31.

Seth Fleetwood, mayor of Bellingham, said the city is supporting the governor’s orders on ensuring certain sectors of work, such as construction, can reopen safely. Fleetwood and his staff participate in weekly meetings with Gov. Inslee and other state officials to discuss dealing with the COVID-19 virus.

“We have lost many members of our community, and without continued vigilance we may all lose people we care about,” Fleetwood said.

 Fleetwood issued an executive order on April 24 canceling city-hosted and city-permitted events through August 30.

A statement from the Whatcom County Health Department released on April 14 suggested that continued social distancing will help mitigate the next wave of the virus. If group gatherings continue too soon, “the virus’ spread could be deadlier,” the statement said.

“Taking the Whatcom County Health Department’s recommendations seriously means doing everything we can to reduce the number of people gathering in Bellingham,” Fleetwood said.

The Whatcom County Health Department said the city of Bellingham is looking to increase business and community activity in phases, but fear that if they move too quickly, their ability to successfully reopen the economy could be damaged. 

Hospitals have been a large area of focus when it comes to treating the virus. After the initial wave swept over the country in March, hospitals scrambled to avoid being overwhelmed and undersupplied. Robin Hernandez, a registered nurse at Providence Regional Medical Center, said although hospitals like Providence have seen a decrease of patients in their COVID-19 unit, they are still worried about possible surges in patients if social distancing does not continue.

“It can be pretty scary, you’re taking care of people’s lives,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez started working on the COVID-19 unit at Providence March 23. She suggested that before she started working there the situation may have been more severe. She is not currently working on the COVID-19 unit, but said to avoid shortages in masks, they got a certain number based on the length of their shift and they had to reuse face shields. Nurses at Providence have to go through a lengthy process to change personal protection equipment to decontaminate after every patient. Nurses can work with up to three patients at a time.

“We don’t want there to be another surge, and that could definitely happen if we get ahead of ourselves,” Hernandez said.

Several protests have appeared all over the country demanding states to end their lockdowns and let people return to work. In Olympia, a protest of 1,500 people, according to Washington State Patrol, took place on May 9. This protest was to rally against Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order. A similar protest took place in April that was nearly double the size. 

While many states remain in lockdown or restrict travel and work, Brian Kemp, the governor of Georgia, lifted the statewide shelter-in-place order and allowed businesses to reopen April 27. May 26 data from the Georgia Department of Health reported 924 new cases April 27. The day before the lockdown lifted, April 26, there were only 343 cases reported.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and one of the lead members of the Trump Administration’s White House Coronavirus Task Force, has said he’s worried about states and cities reopening. If some areas “jump over” steps to insure a safe reopening they can cause significant risks, Fauci said.

“There is no doubt in my mind that when you pull back mitigation you’re going to start seeing cases pop up here and there, and if you’re not able to handle them, you’re going to see another peak, a spike, and then you almost have to turn the clock back to go back to mitigation,” Fauci said in a CNN town hall May 1.

As the world scrambles for a vaccine, Fauci has talked about the possibility of having a vaccine ready for distribution by January. However, he has stated he is “almost certain” the virus will return in the winter.

Julie Popper, media relations manager for Kaiser Permanente, said the NIAID has selected  Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute as the first to begin clinical testing of a vaccine.

There have been 5.4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 343,514 deaths worldwide, according to May 26 data from the World Health Organization. Washington state has 20,065 confirmed cases. Whatcom County has 369 confirmed cases and 36 deaths, according to May 26 data from the Washington State Department of Health.

According to the World Health Organization, as of May 26, The U.S. has 1.6 million cases of COVID-19 and 96,909 deaths. The next closest country in cases is Brazil with 363,211 cases and 22,666 deaths. 

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