Today on Inland Journal and the Inland Journal podcast, the states of Washington and Idaho are now both in ‘stay-at-home mode.’ Spokane County officials stay consistent with the “social distancing” message, but not everyone is listening. An employee at Fairchild Air Force Base tries to explain the coronavirus and its ripples in a new book for children. And we’ll hear about life in an Idaho household where Dad has the virus and the rest of the family is trying to avoid it. Those stories and we’ll ask you about your new coronavirus rituals today on Inland Journal, after the news.
Today on Inland Journal and the Inland Journal podcast, the coronavirus continues to disrupt life, big time, in the Northwest.
On Monday, Oregon Governor Kate Brown issued a stay-at-home order for the residents of her state. A few hours later, her colleague, Jay Inslee, in the state to the north went on TV.
Jay Inslee: “COVID-19 has taken more than 100 lives in our state. That’s a number that will continue to rise, unfortunately. We know our hearts ache for all of the Washingtonians and their families affected by this virus. And as we move forward, we cannot forget the losses that those families have suffered. This is a human tragedy on a scale we cannot yet project. It’s time to hunker down in order to win this fight. So tonight, I am issuing a ‘stay home’ order to fight this virus.”
The order added to measures already taken to restrict the movements and gathering of Washington’s people. The schools, restaurants and public spaces are already closed.
“I’ve been very clear on the need for Washingtonians to stay home already. But I have heard from health professionals, local officials and others, that people still aren’t practicing these precautions. And that is one of the reasons why we have to take steps. These measures are more stringent and our goal is the same, to reduce social interactions, physical interactions, where this highly-contagious virus can spread," Inslee said.
His order requires people to work from home, unless they’re in certain job sectors.
“We’ve chosen these essential businesses based largely on federal guidelines. Essential businesses and personnel not limited by this order include those who help us fight this outbreak, including emergency services, health care industries, critical manufacturing, child providers, food and agriculture, transportation, financial services, defense industries and critical local government operations, including courts. The media will continue to operate as well. The media have just been absolutely critical to keep all of us informed about this virus," Inslee said.
Later that day, Idaho’s governor met with reporters in Boise and insisted he wasn’t ready to go as far as his colleagues in Washington and Oregon had.
“Idaho is an expansive, geographically-diverse state. Science and common sense tell us that planning and response efforts in one part of the state may not be the best approach in another part of the state," Little said.
He had put restrictions on life in Blaine County, in south central Idaho, home of the resort town of Sun Valley. It’s the Gem State’s coronavirus hot spot. Two days later, though, seeing the number of confirmed cases had jumped, he changed his mind.
“The experts tell us that the timing of decisions is extremely important. Every state is in a different stage. I am confident that the decisions we have made in Idaho over the past few weeks and months have been solidly grounded in the advice of our epidemiologists and our infectious disease experts," he said. "That said, Idaho is now in a new stage. Following the guidance of our public health experts, today, I will be issuing a statewide ‘stay-home’ order for all of Idaho.”
And that, he says, requires more drastic measures.
“Self isolate at home if you can, not just if you’re sick. If you are high risk, avoid leaving home. You can leave home to obtain essential services as defined in the order. Employers that do not provide essential services, as defined in the order, must take all steps necessary for employees to work remotely from home. Grocery stores, medical facilities, and essential businesses will remain open. Restaurants across the state are being ordered to close dine-in, but drive through, pick-up and delivery will still be available and I encourage all of us to support our neighborhood establishments. Non-essential businesses and services will close their physical locations," Little said.
He asked people to curtail non-essential travel, avoid public transit when possible and not to gather in small and large groups. He says those are the measures needed to slow the spread of the coronavirus in Idaho, now at 123 confirmed cases, nine in Kootenai County.
The governor’s order is good for 21 days. He and his advisors will review it in a couple of weeks.
Over the last few days, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has jumped in Idaho, as we’ve mentioned, but also in Spokane County. That number went from 29 on Monday to 33 on Tuesday to 54 on Wednesday. And the virus is now being detected in several rural eastern Washington counties. Whitman, Stevens and Walla Walla counties have two confirmed cases each and others that had avoided it are now reporting cases too: Adams, Ferry, Okanogan, Lincoln and Columbia counties.
Is the coronavirus curve flattening in the Inland Northwest? That question that came up Tuesday in a Spokane media briefing, one in which local officials urged residents to obey the ‘stay-at-home’ mandate ordered this week by Governor Jay Inslee.
Spokane County Health Officer Bob Lutz says there’s progress, but still a long way to go before the region’s in the clear.
“I think if I were to look right now at our local numbers, we’re not ‘flattening the curve.’ I think if you look at it from a state level, we’re not ‘flattening the curve’ yet. So time will tell, but I think the fact that we have been encouraging, at times requiring, and then having to go to this next step indicates that, collectively, we’ve not really followed through with what public health has been providing as recommendations," Lutz said.
When the state informs Spokane County that Spokane has new confirmed cases, Lutz’s staff follows up with phone calls to the affected people. It’s a detective process, with epidemiologists learning about individuals and figuring out who else was exposed.
“My staff has been incredibly busy as this has ramped up, supported by the Department of Health. So this past weekend, the Department of Health said it will provide additional resources for us to do these contact investigations. What that allows us to do is to focus on those situations where we have deemed high risk, in your nursing homes, your long-term care facilities, in the homeless shelters. Those are populations which, for us, are high risk and, therefore, we can put our staff into those situations where one contact may beget a number of cases. The Department of Health will, therefore, do a lot of those contact investigations for us," Lutz said.
The county’s portable clinic at the Fairgrounds has been screening people for the last couple of weeks to determine if they should qualify for coronavirus testing.
“With respect to the screening site, I think there was definitely some miscommunication and I will take the onus for some of that. I think, early on, because of the concerns that we have a limited amount of testing, resources, the concern was that if we literally said ‘come one, come all’, that’s what would happen and we wouldn’t really be able to test the individuals who really needed to be tested. So the messaging was that you needed to talk with your provider and that’s oftentimes done virtually or by phone call. A lot of the organizations have hot lines. You can call a nurse. You can talk with a provider and actually find out whether or not and find out whether or not you met certain criteria to be tested. That would then have you go to that drive-in site, located at the fair, be evaluated. It wouldn’t necessarily require you to be tested, but out there, they would make that determination. Over the last five days, what we’ve seen is that people are starting to see this as a great resource and so, yesterday, for example, more than 300 individuals were actually seen out there. Not all of them were tested. But more than 300 cars drove up to be evaluated," Lutz said.
Lutz says that clinic is taking pressure off of other clinics and emergency rooms, so they can focus on other patients.
Does the Spokane area have enough personal protective equipment for its health care and emergency medical workers?
“I think we are in a good position, but not a great position," he said. "We’ve been very proactive. We’ve been putting in requests. By the same token, I think that the health care organizations, EMS providers, we are very concerned about the possibility of not having sufficient numbers and amounts of PPE when we get to a tipping point, for example. We are in what I would call a contingency mode. We’re preparing because we want to ensure we have enough if the situation is required.”
Meanwhile, Lutz and the others leading the emergency coronavirus management process are trying to convince people to stay home and stay at least six feet away from each other.
In a briefing on Tuesday, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich took his turn with the messaging, part encouraging and motivating, part scolding.
“We’re not saying you can’t go out of your house. You can. You can go for a walk. You can go for a run. You can bike. You can go to the store. Shop for your groceries. Go to the pharmacy. There are no road restrictions. No one has mentioned that, but that is one of the common things we’ve been hearing," Knezovich said.
"One of the other things we really need you to do is stop the panic. We truly need you to stop the panic. We need those supply chains to reboot and they’re doing the best they can. Everybody I’ve talked to has reassured me. Sheriff, there is no shortage of anything, if people would just go back to their normal buying patterns. If we would just simply do that, the store shelves will restock. But as long as you panic, as long as you’re in this mode, you’re going to see shortages," he said.
With the new ‘stay-at-home’ policy, people are questioning who’s going to enforce that.
“We are not going to take efforts that are going to be draconian on this. We’re going to educate you. If we find you in large groups, we’re going to stop and go, ‘Hey look, we need you to comply with these orders.’ The education part is where we’re going to stress our efforts," Knezovich said.
He was a little more forceful in talking about enforcing rules to get restaurants to stop offering dine-in services, in favor of take-out, pick-up and delivery. He says his officers will give two warnings before taking stronger actions.
Ultimately, Knezovich says, it’s all aimed at getting Spokane past one of its most difficult situations in years.
“Every generation has their challenges. Well, guess what? This is ours. This is our challenge. How are you going to be remembered? Are you going to be remembered as the great generations before us that survived these things and moved forward, as we always have? That is our legacy, folks. That is who we are as a nation, as a community. We don’t run from a problem, we face the problem and we solve the problem. This one’s on you. This is truly in your court," he said.
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, speaking at a media briefing on Tuesday.
Many of us are trying to adjust to our lives in the coronavirus era. Adam Wallace is thinking about how it affects children. Wallace is in the Air Force, stationed at Fairchild. He’s working toward a master’s degree in public health with an eye on medical school in the future. Wallace has been working from home lately and he’s had a little extra time. So during the last couple of weeks, he’s written a children’s book about COVID-19.
Adam Wallace: “Driving home the other day, I called, we volunteer for an animal rescue, to see if they had any more puppies up for adoption and they were really excited that all of the dogs in town are being adopted. The dogs at home are all probably really excited because all of their kids are home every day. It kind of sparked in my head that, hey, if all the dogs are excited that the kids are home, what are the kids thinking? Combine the public health side of my head that the CDC is putting out a lot of good guidance for adults, but there hasn’t been a lot of discussion about how to talk to kids or images that kids can look at.”
He started writing.
Adam Wallace: “The story’s about two puppies, Luna and Maui, which are my dog’s names. They walk their kids to school every morning. One morning, Luna’s waiting at the front door with her leash, ready to go to class and walk the kids to the playground and the kids are just sitting on the couch watching TV. The dogs run to the couch and try to figure out what’s going on. The whole story is the older dog explaining to the younger dog what COVID-19 is and how we can all stay safe from it and try to make it less scary for the dog and the kids in the book, but also for the kids that would be reading the book.”
So Wallace had a story. Next he needed pictures. He searched for an illustrator who could create sketches for the book in a short period of time and he soon found one.
Adam Wallace: “The illustrator’s name is Adam Riong. He’s from Malaysia. I found him online. We were trying to find a local illustrator and most people were saying it would take a month or two at least to draw a book with 30 images. He really got on board and said I’ll get this done in two or three days for you. He came back with some pretty amazing art work. I definitely could not have put a book to life and brought it to life like he did.”
Doug: “So how long has it been from idea in your head to where you are now?”
Adam Wallace: “It was probably the 16th or 17th, so less than a week from thinking about the idea. Luckily I’ve been home more than normal so I’ve had more free time to dedicate to the project.”
After the story, Wallace includes an extensive coronavirus Q and A for children and their parents, drawing upon his knowledge and his studies and his wife’s experience as an emergency medical worker.
Adam Wallace: “If I wasn’t studying public health, I probably never would have heard viral load or maybe known what a respirator is. My wife is a paramedic and literally on the front line of it. The two of those coming together, I have a pretty close first-hand idea of what’s happening. So I was trying to turn that from a public health perspective and a graduate student into something that a normal person who’s not a medical student could read and understand.”
The book’s done and Wallace is working with a publishing company to make it available soon.
Adam Wallace: “And if it can’t go on sale and even if it does go on sale, the plan is to put a free PDF up online right now, so I’m working with a couple of friends to figure out what’s the best way to distribute the book. We spent a little bit of money getting it illustrated, so if we could recoup that money that would be awesome. But the real goal here is that there are a lot of kids that are scared and don’t know what’s happening, so if we can get it out to them, I’d rather get it out online as a book or a PDF or a Kindle book or whatever medium is easy for kids to read and be able to understand.”
Adam Wallace is the author of a new children’s book called “The Day My Kids Stayed Home: Explaining COVID-19 And The Coronavirus To Your Kids.” Wallace has developed a Kickstarter campaign for the book.
We’ve been hearing a lot about COVID-19 from health experts and elected officials. Now we’re going to hear from a family that’s contending with a case inside their own home.
For disclosure’s sake, the wife is a longtime acquaintance of public radio reporter Brian Bull. He works in Eugene, Oregon, but he’s a Lewiston, Idaho native. Her husband tested positive for coronavirus late last week. To give them confidentiality, we’re identifying them by the aliases of “Amy” and “Jim”. Bull called them at their Idaho residence earlier this week to check in, and started by asking Jim when he first realized he wasn’t doing well.
Jim: About a week ago last Monday, I started getting a little dry cough. And then Tuesday morning it progressed to chills, achiness, ah…I did not have a fever. And our healthcare facility here has a testing tent. And I drove by, and they screened me, and said I passed the testing criteria, and they tested me Thursday afternoon and then I received a call Friday evening from the health district to tell me that it was positive.
Bull: What was your immediate reaction to the news, Jim?
Jim: Ah…(laughs) It certainly changed my perspective. I think up to that point I was living under the delusion that I just had a little bit of a cold, or I was run down from increased work. But it became very real at that point, and you immediately start thinking about your family, and those around you that you may impact.
Amy: There was some fear for sure. Even though we’d been super careful. I’d already increased cleaning since he was in healthcare; washing hands, disinfecting services, I think there was just, “How did it find its way in?” But as we know, it’s super-contagious, and I think also the fact that he didn’t have a fever, and we were being told that was a main symptom to look for.
Jim: I know my family are showing some symptoms. They appear to be somewhat mild, which is somewhat comforting. I’m feeling better, and the health district is calling every day, as well as the health system that I belong to, so it feels good.
Bull: I understand Amy has you sectioned off in another part of the house?
Jim: Yes, there’s three of us in our household, and everybody’s in their own room. Everybody has their assigned bathroom. Everybody goes down and does something at one point, and then Amy runs through and wipes everything down with sanitizer.
Bull: And what do you do to pass the time?
Jim: Thank god for Netflix and streaming (coughs). But I’m continuing to do some work from home, to stay engaged because there’s a lot of activity around this COVID-19 going on where I work. And talking a lot with friends and family, who keep calling.
Amy: Probably more TV watching than normal, reading, online gaming, definitely sleeping more, trying to get our rest. But you know, we’re even supposed to be distancing ourselves from our pets, but that is proving to be nearly impossible. We have just one dog and one cat, but they’re wanting to be right near us. Which, ah…the recommendations are to stay some distance from your pet, they’re not really clear of the effects so that has us nervous. So while they bring us comfort, we’re doing our best to keep our distance, but it’s a little impossible. Especially when a cat wants to jump in your lap.
Bull: And I understand that currently, neither you nor your son have been tested for coronavirus, is that correct?
Amy: That’s correct.
Bull: Is it because you’re not displaying full symptoms, or strongly pronounced symptoms?
Amy: I think there’s such a stress on the system with the limited amount of test kits, that having already been exposed to someone that’s tested positive, they would just prefer we stay home and monitor our symptoms, and stay in touch with Central District Health at this time.
Bull: So Amy is there any advice you want to share to our listening audience in terms of preparing for coronavirus? And what to do if they or a close relative test positive?
Amy: You know, I don’t want to add to the hoarding madness that we’ve seeing going on, but you will be in quarantine for quite some time. And that’s on top of the quarantine that you’re already maybe doing, the self-quarantine. So make sure you do have medications. They are advising different ones, you can look at the CDC website and see what those are, or ask your healthcare provider. But make sure you do have some medications as well as just some basic necessities on hand. I know that some grocery stores and restaurants are also providing delivery. And of course, be in touch with your doctor as soon as you find out.
It’s also normal to be scared, but not to panic. And of course, as symptoms get worse, you’ll want to call your ER in advance.
Jim: People really should take social distancing and take this COVID-19 threat very serious. It’s very disheartening when you see the news and people are on the beach or they’re continuing to get together. At this point, what I’ve realized (cough) it’s not about me as an individual anymore, it’s really about those around me and trying to keep them safe. I wish people would really consider that a little bit more.
Amy: Yeah, just stay safe, look out for neighbors and friends, they’re definitely high risk, especially if they’re alone. Be checking on those folks. This is just a very serious thing. Take it seriously, people.
Bull: Jim and Amy, thank you so much for your time. I’ve got my fingers crossed for the best possible outcome for everyone. Take care.
Jim: Thank you very much.
Amy: Thank you.]
IC: “About a week ago…”
OC: “…thank you.”
That’s Brian Bull from station KLCC in Eugene, Oregon, talking to "Jim" and "Amy" in their Idaho residence. Jim tested positive for COVID-19 late last week, and his wife and son could be infected.
How has life changed for you in our new coronavirus reality? I’m now working more at home, but on the days I get home from the radio station after work, my wife greets me at the back door, shows me where to hang up my coat, directs me to take off my clothes, throws them in the washer and points me toward the shower. Oh, and we’re taking a lot more walks around our neighborhood too. What’s your coronavirus reality? Do you have a story that can top mine? Post your new rituals at the Spokane Public Radio Facebook page or dial up our listener comment line: 509-232-6904 and tell us. That’s 509-232-6904. We’ll use the best messages and comments on next week’s Inland Journal.
That’s it for this week. Inland Journal airs every Thursday on Spokane Public Radio. The podcast is available anytime at spokane public radio dot org. Subscribe at Apple Podcasts, NPR One or Google Play.