Virus statistics: Public Health – Seattle & King County (PHSKC) reports 89 positive cases of COVID-19 on Vashon since the pandemic began. At press time, there had been seven additions to the new case total since the last edition. After a period of zero new cases following the severe spike in November, the COVID infections have been increasing, and Vashon is now averaging about one new case per day.
Second COVID-19 fatality: There has been a second COVID-19 related death of a Vashon resident. Longtime islander Marvin Benham, age 94, father of island resident Donna Benham Donnelly, died on Tuesday, Dec. 29. “He made it through 10 long months of isolation at VCC and was days away from the vaccine, but made a short trip to the hospital in mid-December, which is where he contracted the virus,” according to his granddaughter Nicole Donnelly Martin. The patient’s positive COVID test result had been reported in an earlier Situation Report, but his name was not revealed at that time, in compliance with privacy laws. The family encouraged the publishing of his name now, with an appeal to maintain COVID safety: “We were only able to say goodbye to Baba Marv on the phone,” his granddaughter reported. “We’re gutted about how his life ended, and that we weren’t able to be with him. Please, everyone, stay home and wear masks, if for nothing else than to protect the vulnerable and show support for those that have lost their loved ones. We’re so close to no more telephone goodbyes and heartbreaking loss.”
Data lag: A data-reporting lag continues on the official dashboard of pandemic statistics maintained by Public Health — Seattle & King County. For example, although there have been two COVID-related deaths of Vashon residents to date, the PHSKC dashboard was still showing only one death at press time.
VCC testing/lockdown continues: Vashon Community Care went into a required lockdown after receiving test results on Christmas Eve that a resident had contracted COVID-19, the patient Marvin Benham who just passed away (see above). A rigorous testing protocol went into effect at that time and continues. All tests since then have come back negative. In addition, Public Health (PHSKC) has determined that the infection was not acquired at VCC.
Exposures at the pharmacy: Vashon Pharmacy has implemented a COVID-19 safety protocol for testing and quarantine, in collaboration with the Vashon Medical Reserve Corps. The safety steps are being taken because of two unrelated exposure situations, involving staff in their free time outside of the pharmacy workplace. Based on information gained so far from the contact tracing investigation, the pharmacy remains open at this time to fill prescriptions and perform its other services to the community. Even though a staff member has tested positive, fortunate timing of the holidays and days off likely prevented any spread of the disease among staff members, and it’s extremely unlikely that any customers have been exposed. The contact tracing investigation has included interviews with staff members and viewing of store security videos. “We realize that anyone in the healthcare field must go beyond normal standards of caution,” said Vashon Pharmacy owner Tyler Young. “We are grateful that the timing of holiday store closure and staff days off broke in our favor in this situation, but we must take extra care of public safety, so several members of the pharmacy team are being tested and have gone into voluntary 14-day quarantine.”
Assume potential for infection: Remarking on the pharmacy situation, Medical Reserve Corps infectious disease specialist Dr. Zach Miller emphasized: “It’s very important to keep in mind that these exposures involved family gatherings with safety precautions, and still resulted in an infection. Until the new vaccines have been given to many more people, we have one easy and inexpensive way for everyone to stay safe, and the safety measure works for all the virus variants, including the one that has now come to the United States from England. It’s crucial for everyone to wear a mask, stay six feet apart, wash or sanitize hands, and avoid gatherings of any type outside your household. Everyone should just assume that whoever they encounter may possibly have COVID-19 and behave accordingly.”
Restriction orders extended: Governor Inslee has extended the Stay Safe Stay Healthy restrictions by one week, at least through Jan. 11. The restrictions ban indoor dining, and ordered the closure of gyms and fitness centers, in addition to shutting down movie theaters and museums. The original restrictions had been scheduled to expire in mid-December, but have been extended several times in response to the rising case numbers. Wedding and funeral ceremonies are limited to 30 people, and no receptions are allowed. The Governor’s office promised an updated plan soon to “provide a pathway for businesses and workers to reopen safely.”
Vaccine eligibility tool on the way: Washington state will rely on an honor system to determine eligibility for COVID-19 vaccinations. To help people know when they become eligible, the state plans to launch an online questionnaire called PhaseFinder. The objective is to satisfy concerns coming from providers that they do not want to be vaccination police, attempting to sort out who qualifies at a vaccination site. The qualification process will become increasingly complex as distribution widens to include more and more categories of people. The PhaseFinder tool will include questions about age, ZIP code, preexisting conditions, occupation, and household situation. The tool will come in multiple languages.
Emergency Operations Center (EOC): The EOC activated in response to the pandemic emergency on March 12, almost ten months ago (302 days). Four operational priorities remain our goals: health, food security, housing security and economic recovery.
EOC/MRC/Community Engagement Team: Planning has started for supporting island care providers who will be administering the COVID-19 vaccine at the various phases of the rollout. Support will include public education and communications about where and how to get vaccinated.
COVID relief: The EOC Team continues work with our Vashon-Maury Island Chamber of Commerce partner to track the status of the new federal stimulus package, as well as a one-time relief payment coming from Washington state.
Community Care Team/Community Engagement Team: The launch of the Creating Strength mental health and resilience campaign, a nine-week series of tips and videos, has been delayed until Jan. 12. The schedule change will allow the campaign to synchronize communications with the upcoming Hope 2021 publication.
Volunteers: A total of 31 volunteers contributed 236 hours of work to VashonBePrepared’s pandemic emergency response in the most recent reporting period. That means the total volunteer time has now crested over 20,000 hours. The total includes hours contributed by the Vashon EOC Team, Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), and Community Care Team (CCT). VashonBePrepared also gives thanks for the many hours of work in support of the Vashon community by the staff and volunteers at local social services agencies.
This information is compiled from the Situation Reports produced by the EOC Situation Section and provided to The Beachcomber to help islanders stay informed and safe. To receive reports and other emergency information emails, go to VoiceOfVashon.org/alertsignup.