Funding Pierce County’s Public Health Response to COVID

This afternoon Governor Inslee announced a new approach to relaxing the stay home orders beginning June 1st. The new system will establish targets as guidance — seen below — but will take into account capabilities and complete proposals of each county health department.

The order allows Pierce County to make an application to move forward with Phase Two. We are scheduling an emergency meeting of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department Board of Health for some time Sunday afternoon.

At that time, the Health Director, Dr. Chen, will make a recommendation to the Board, and we’ll vote on whether to approve the application.

However, the ability to apply for the next phase isn’t the only thing standing in our path to relaxing our standards. While many understood the rhetoric around “flattening the curve” to avoid overloading hospitals, we also needed to use this time to set up our public health response. That’s the part designed to keep people safe as we return to some semblance of normalcy.

From the President’s guidelines for “Reopening America” and Governor Inslee’s “Safe Start,” local health departments are to establish robust diagnostic testing and contact tracing programs and safety measures for particularly vulnerable communities like long-term care facilities.

This is old school, shoe leather public health work, but on a much larger scale. That takes a lot of resources and was a large part of the reason Congress passed the CARES Act. Pierce County received $158m, and the Council dedicated $67m to fund our public health response.

That’s why I was surprised to find out on Wednesday that Executive Dammeier still had not approved the funds Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department (TPCHD) needs despite the Council’s appropriation weeks ago. The reason cited at the time to give the Executive broad discretion over such a large amount of money was the need for speed and ability to respond to changing conditions. It’s now become an obstacle.

Without the resources TPCHD needs to run our public health response, the Governor’s staff made it clear we will not be able to move forward. Pierce County businesses and organizations deserve to restart operations safely.

As a result, I introduced an emergency ordinance to shift the responsibility of the public health portion of our CARES Act funds away from the Executive’s Office and to TPCHD.

There will still be oversight. Our Board of Health, where I serve as Vice-Chair, is made up of members from Pierce County, including the Executive, members of the Tacoma City Council, a small city representative and a doctor representing the Pierce County Medical Society.

People in Pierce County have made incredible sacrifices to reduce the spread of this dangerous disease. We owe it to them to do everything possible to move forward quickly and safely. Further delays to vital public health services aren’t acceptable in this global pandemic.

For more information about how Phase 2 will impact your family, business, or organization, visit the Governor’s Coronavirus page.

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Pierce County Councilmember. Serving Gig Harbor, Fox Island, Key Peninsula, Ruston, and parts of North and West Tacoma.

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Derek Young

Derek Young

Pierce County Councilmember. Serving Gig Harbor, Fox Island, Key Peninsula, Ruston, and parts of North and West Tacoma.

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