Costs to Combat Coronavirus Mount in an Epicenter of the Outbreak

In this photo taken Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, Ted Toet, of the King County Emergency Management office, helps with logistics at the offices of Seattle & King County  Public Health in response to the threat of coronavirus.

In this photo taken Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, Ted Toet, of the King County Emergency Management office, helps with logistics at the offices of Seattle & King County Public Health in response to the threat of coronavirus. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

In King County, Washington alone, the local government is spending about $100,000 a day responding to the public health crisis, according to one lawmaker.

SEATTLE — State and local governments in this region are facing millions of dollars in public health costs as they work to quell the deadly outbreak of the new coronavirus, which has claimed at least 16 lives here in Washington state so far.

U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, whose district includes part of King County, where Seattle is located, said on Friday that the county has been spending roughly $100,000 a day on response efforts. County Executive Dow Constantine later estimated that the county will spend around $50 million in the short term dealing with the public health crisis.

King County is a hotspot for Covid-19, the respiratory illness that the coronavirus causes. 

Most of the Covid-19 deaths that had occurred in the U.S. as of Saturday afternoon have happened here in the county—at least 15 of them as of Saturday morning, according to the state. At least 14 of those fatalities are linked to a nursing home located east of Seattle.

There are about 2.2 million residents in King County, which sprawls well beyond Seattle to the east and south. Its total planned general fund spending for 2019 and 2020 is about $1.8 billion.

DelBene said nearby Snohomish County spent about $200,000 managing a single case of coronavirus and the people who came into contact with the patient. The only other reported Covid-19 death outside of King County in Washington state was in Snohomish County.

“It’s been a great strain on state and local governments,” the congresswoman said.

The early cost figures coming out of Washington offer a glimpse into the growing expense of the public health response. Other states and localities will no doubt confront similar costs. Information the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last updated on Friday showed that 19 states were reporting Covid-19 cases.

Florida health officials on Friday confirmed two deaths from the illness, the first on the east coast, while the total number of cases in New York has also been on the rise, reaching 76 on Saturday. The total number of confirmed cases nationwide from the disease was over 300.

On Friday, President Trump signed a law meant to provide $8.3 billion in federal funding to support the nation’s coronavirus response. Some of that money will flow to the states.

Of that total, $950 million is to support states, local governments, tribes and territories with costs like surveillance of the disease, conducting tests to detect new cases, and “contact tracing,” where health workers try to determine who has been exposed to the virus through close interactions with somebody who has the illness.

This money will be overseen by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the bill calls for $475 million of it to be allocated within 30 days.

Nearly $1 billion of funding from the bill is supposed to go toward the purchase of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, including personal protective equipment like gowns and masks. These can be distributed to state and local agencies that are running low on these items.

A large portion of the money that the federal legislation appropriates, over $3 billion, is for research and development of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. 

DelBene said about $11.5 million from the bill would go to Washington.

She said it’s a priority for her to not only get funding to states to cover costs going forward, but also to backfill money they’ve already spent, and she indicated that more federal aid could be forthcoming.

“That is the first wave,” DelBene said. “This is a beginning.”

The CDC and Washington State Department of Health announced the first case of Covid-19 in the United States in Washington state on January 21. A person in King County became the first known death in the U.S. from the disease in the final days of February.

Patty Hayes, public health director for Seattle and King County, said on Friday that county efforts to monitor hundreds of people who had been exposed to the disease were putting pressure on members of her team. “That’s why we’re bringing in more staff,” she said. 

“That’s why the federal funding is so important, so that I can staff up,” Hayes added.

State lawmakers in Washington, like some other states, are also taking action to provide funding.

Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, noted that they were passing a $100 million appropriation to support the coronavirus response. Inslee also applauded the funding package that federal lawmakers had approved.

“We are pleased that the U.S. Congress is sending Washington state much more than their thoughts and prayers,” he said. 

“I do believe that we have a very clear understanding that we are the tip of the spear nationally on this,” Inslee added. “We need to have the priority be Washington state at the moment.”

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Bill Lucia is a senior reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.

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