Coming together and still staying apart: Preventing an increase in COVID-19 as reopening begins

Today, King County was approved for a modified Phase 1 of the Governor’s Safe Start plan. It allows for limited openings of recreational, social and business activity, provided that everyone adheres to the state’s public health guidance.

Many of us may feel excited to socialize with others again, relieved to be able to open business again or thrilled to get a haircut. Others may feel fearful that re-opening invites further COVID-19 spread. These mixed emotions are understandable as we test the waters of re-opening.

This is a gradual process. There are still cases of COVID-19 in our county, and we need to continue to decrease the numbers in order to be eligible for Phase 2 which allows for more activities to open.

Here are a few ways to approach re-opening so we can continue to make progress on slowing the spread of COVID-19:

Avoid extremes

Protecting yourself, your loved ones, and your community from COVID-19 is not an “all-or-nothing” approach. As the economy gradually re-opens and we engage in public space again more, we should make smart, risk assessment decisions.

Have your children returned to daycare? Are you attending religious gatherings again? It may feel like your “protective seal” has broken and it can be tempting to be less cautious. But don’t abandon the basics of disease prevention. How you choose to interact with others still matters. You can still protect from COVID-19 and help prevent an increase in COVID-19 cases as King County opens up.

Continue to follow the same safety principles

As people come together more, it is more important than ever to maintain the safety principles that led to our success against the outbreak. These include continuing to stay at least six feet away from others, minimizing contact with people outside the home, frequent hand washing, wearing cloth face coverings in public, and avoiding group gatherings and poorly ventilated spaces.

If you are in a high risk group for severe illness from COVID-19, you will need to continue to take extra precautions. Even as more gatherings happen, staying at home and away from others as much as possible is the safest thing to do.

Monitor for symptoms and get a test at any sign of illness

People who have been at group gatherings of any size should monitor their health for 14 days afterwards. Anyone who develops symptoms of COVID-19 should call your healthcare provider and get tested right away, even if your symptoms are mild.

Testing is much more widely available, and the sooner you get tested, the sooner you know if you have COVID-19. That allows you to take immediate steps to protect others in your life from getting it, too. And the county’s eligibility to move to Phase 2 also depends on people getting tested quickly to decrease the spread of the virus.

What if you participate in a protest?

We are simultaneously experiencing a COVID-19 pandemic and a systemic racism pandemic. Both are of critical importance and require different responses. Both are fighting to save lives. Slowing the spread of COVID-19 requires physical distancing and avoiding large gatherings. Protecting Black lives from violence requires advocacy.

For some, that advocacy has included coming together to exercise their protest rights against long-lasting and pervasive injustices against Black and Brown people, including violence and poorer health. This includes the impacts of COVID-19 itself, with Black community members dying at higher rates compared to white community members.

If you participate in protests, please know how to protect one another and reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19.  We need to keep each other healthy now and get to a more just future for everyone.

Finding the balance

Many of us will have increasing interaction with others, whether it’s spending time with a handful of friends outdoors, attending an outdoor faith service, or standing up for social justice. When you have more contact with people in the coming weeks, balance it out by following all of the tried and true public health tools of staying six feet apart, handwashing, face coverings, and when you can, staying at home. It’s what we need to minimize illness and death, and to stay on the path for continued reopening.

Originally posted on June 5, 2020.