The Washington State Department of Health announced several new cases of COVID-19, also known as novel coronavirus, in King and Snohomish Counties. The first case was announced in Seattle on March 1, 2020. You can learn of new developments in the days and weeks ahead by visiting Public Health — Seattle King County and Washington State Department of Health.
We are providing information on what the Seattle Human Services Department (HSD) is doing in preparation and in response to COVID-19 in communities across Seattle and King County. If a significant expansion of services is required, the City will also need significant resources from the state and federal governments to assist our most vulnerable.
HSD serves Seattle and King County’s most vulnerable communities, providing services specifically for people experiencing homelessness, aging communities, and people living with disabilities – many who are homebound. These populations may face higher risks from the spread of COVID-19.
Under the direction of Mayor Jenny Durkan, the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), and Director Jason Johnson, HSD has been preparing by updating the City’s pandemic response plan to align with COVID-19 response guidance from Public Health – Seattle King County (PHSKC) since January.
Specifically, HSD has been tasked with developing an action plan to manage COVID-19 impacts for people experiencing homelessness. Additionally, HSD’s Aging and Disability Services Division (ADS), which works with homebound individuals and people who need in-home care, is working closely with Washington State Department of Health (DOH) and PHSKC to ensure coordination and communication is aligned with best home care practices and public health guidance.
Both the City and County’s OEM’s Emergency Operations Center was activated on Monday, March 2 to coordinate the overall City response to COVID-19, including HSD’s efforts.
HSD Service Providers
The City works with dozens of service providers across the City, which are a critical partner to ensuing the health and safety needs of our vulnerable population. These include providers of a wide range of services including housing, aging, youth, homelessness, safety, and many more.
HSD has been coordinating calls with service providers over the weekend to ensure they are prepared to respond to COVID-19 and staff and clients are safe during an outbreak. HSD will continue to lead coordinating calls, in partnership with King County Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS) and PHSKC, with service providers to monitor staffing levels and resources. HSD has recommended that all service providers update their continuity of operations to ensure proper staffing, ensure protocols are in place for any illnesses, and deploy hygiene and sanitation recommendations.
HSD will utilize the EOC to leverage resources as needs come to light.
Vulnerable Communities –People Experiencing Homelessness
Individuals living unsheltered face elevated public health risks in general. Working in partnership with King County, HSD’s Homeless Strategy and Investments Division (HSI) has been developing an action plan to address COVID-19 impacts to individuals experiencing homelessness. This includes coordinating with DOH and PHSKC, gathering client and operational impacts with service providers, data tracking, on-going system supply inventory at emergency shelters and day centers, outreach, and identifying the potential for new shelter resources.
HSD is working with DCHS and PHSKC to identify resources to open additional emergency shelters, such as expanding tiny house village and enhanced shelter capacity or utilizing modular sheltering resources, in response to COVID-19. Understanding additional State resources may be needed as the situation evolves, the City is working with the State and DCHS to request these additional resources.
Similar to previous emergencies in 2019 and 2020, HSI and the Navigation Team will continue to coordinate the City’s front-line response for people living unsheltered during the COVID-19 outbreak and is prepared to fully deploy all its resources to assist individuals living unsheltered. Understanding the public health concerns for many individuals living unsheltered, the team will continue outreach and is sharing PHSKC sanitation and hygiene guidelines and will distribute hygiene kits as those supplies become available. The Navigation Team will continue to offer referrals to shelters and is prepared to assist individuals with transportation. HSI will continue to coordinate the City’s contracted outreach work to ensure people living unsheltered continue to be engaged during this public health event.
Vulnerable Communities – People Needing In-Home Care
HSD’s Aging and Disability Services Division (ADS) Case Management Program serves roughly 12,000 households in Seattle and King County. Given that homebound individuals live in relative isolation, different planning and responses are needed to ensure both staff and clients are safe and receiving the support they need.
Standard health precautions for ADS case managers are currently being followed. Homebound clients may be impacted if DOH directs ADS and providers to discontinue home visits out of concern for clients and staff. HSD will reach out to home care providers this week to ensure sanitation, hygiene, and equipment needs are being met. Home delivered meals will continue. In the event home visits are suspended, phone check-ins will occur and meal delivery services will be taking special precautions such as leaving food at the door.
Vulnerable Communities – Older Adults
In partnership with Seattle Parks and Recreation, HSD serves over 22,000 individuals at senior centers and 12,000 individuals through congregate or community meal programs (2018 figures). These programs are designed to reduce social isolation for aging people, which presents challenges when managing public health risks such as COVID-19.
ADS is working with senior centers to ensure they are informed and following DOH recommendations and monitoring staffing levels. Many senior centers also offer congregate meals. HSD will work with senior center operators to monitor potential closures and to launch contingency actions if meals can no longer be safely provided in a mass setting at a specific site.
Additionally, some ADS clients live in Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) housing. ADS case managers often visit and work with clients in SHA buildings. HSD is working with the SHA to ensure operations and staffing are monitored and—like senior centers—if changing programing to discourage social interactions is necessary.
HSD employees, like all City employees, have been and will continue to be provided critical updates through the Seattle Department of Human Resources (SDHR). All City staff have received detailed steps that employees can take to reduce the number of illnesses and negative effects that could occur in the community.
The guidelines are similar to steps taken to prevent the spread of the common cold or flu. Staff are encouraged to stay home if they are sick, frequently wash hands and disinfect work areas, cover mouth/nose when sneezing, and avoid contact with people who are sick.
Navigation Team, ADS, and select HSD staff do face higher risk levels given their interactions with the public. HSD front-line staff have been trained in universal precautions and use public health guidelines as they engage clients. ADS case managers have been provided DOH and PHSKC guidelines to ensure their safety, client safety, and provider safety. SDHR will continue to provide updates to all City staff and HSD will communicate more up-to-date information as it becomes available.
Where to get the most up-to-date public health information
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), DOH, and PHSKC have issued specific guidance to help communities and businesses prepare. You can find guidance for the general public, schools, workplaces and employers, travelers and health care professionals as well as a more detailed Q&A here.
- Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), Public Health – Seattle & King County
- Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), CDC
- Novel Coronavirus Outbreak 2020, Washington State Dept. of Health
As always, the public is encouraged to call 2-1-1 if they see a person in need and should dial 9-1-1 in the event of a medical emergency.