The coronavirus is the most recent infectious disease that public health officials are fighting, but it isn’t the only one.
According to Seattle & King County Public Health, 101 people have tested positive for Hepatitis A since January 2019, with 25 diagnoses in the month of March alone. Eleven reported that they had experienced homelessness in the Ballard area, but public health officials have not discovered a link, according to the department.
The outbreak led the city to temporarily shut down one of the few public toilets for nearly a week for deep cleaning to prevent further transmission, right as people are being told to wash their hands frequently in order to stop the spread of coronavirus. Handwashing and hygiene are also key to beating back Hepatitis A.
Public health is performing outreach to encourage people living outside to accept vaccinations against the disease.
“The most important strategy for addressing Hepatitis A outbreak is vaccination, and we’ve mobilized several clinics in the Ballard area in March and continuing into April, and doing street outreach and vaccinations as well this week,” said James Apa, public health spokesperson, in an email.
Since January 2019, more than 2,000 Seattleites have been inoculated against Hep A at 300 free vaccination clinics that were part of a push that began in 2017. In 2019, King County Executive Dow Constantine allocated $375,000 to fund the effort.
University of Washington leaders say that they expect to handle as many as 750 additional patients at UW hospitals related to the COVID-19 outbreak.
To prepare, the hospitals began drive-through testing for staff and patients and opened up beds by canceling elective surgeries. There are currently four drive-through testing sites open at regional hospitals, and UW Medicine plans to open a fifth site at a neighborhood clinic in Issaquah, said Lisa Brandenburg, president of UW Medicine hospitals and clinics, in a press release.
The hospitals have also created emergency department entrances on four campuses, where they’ve set up tents for extra capacity and space to separate patients showing respiratory symptoms.
So far, UW Medicine has enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to manage the 120 confirmed COVID-19 patients at the hospital, but as the numbers of patients are increasing, the stockpiles of PPE are going down.
That means getting more gear is an important focus, Brandenburg said.
Community members can support the staff by not getting sick — consistently washing hands, practicing social distancing by maintaining 6 feet between yourself and other people and staying home as much as possible.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC.
Read more in the Apr. 8-14, 2020 issue.