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caption: King County Executive Dow Constantine speaks at a media briefing on the region's COVID-19 outbreak, Wednesday, March 4, 2020. 
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King County Executive Dow Constantine speaks at a media briefing on the region's COVID-19 outbreak, Wednesday, March 4, 2020.
Credit: Public Health Seattle-King County

King County Executive on the county's response to coronavirus

King County Executive Dow Constantine clarifies what the new "stay-at-home" order from Governor Inslee means for the county.

This is an abbreviated transcript of the first half of Bill Radke's conversation with King County Executive Dow Constantine. It has been edited for clarity.

[Regarding the statewide Stay At Home order] Which businesses are essential and which are non-essential in King County?

Well, there's a long list, which is derived from the federal list of what's considered to be essential business, and it's health care, emergency, public works, food and agriculture, a whole long list of things that allows society to function.

There's also this category of essential activity, and that might include going to the doctor, for example. And essential activities also in the governor's description include the basic things to keep us physically and mentally healthy, like being able to go for a walk or bike ride.

So as in California and New York, the exceptions are broad but also necessary if we're going to be able to sustain this for any period of time.

And restaurants can do takeout delivery business, right?

Yes. That was a choice and I think it's the right choice.

A lot of folks are simply dependent upon foods prepared by restaurants. And there is a secondary purpose, I think, which is to see if some of our restaurants can survive this massive slowdown in business and come out the other side of this, still having a community that functions.

Is there any difference at all between King County rules and state rules on this?

No, the state rules would supersede King County rules. We can create rules that are more restrictive but not less restrictive.

We are trying to decide about the way in which we manage our park system, which is vast, for example. We currently have the parks open. We have them staffed, including the cleaning of the restrooms and so forth. An approach they've taken in Snohomish is to close the parks, but people still have access to them. So you need to find the right balance to protect the public, protect our employees.

But the main message of the governor's remarks yesterday and the message I've been trying to drive home is simply: Use your head. Stay home. Stay healthy. Don't be a dummy. And we will be able to drive down the transmission of this virus and get through this.

Anonymous listener: I'm in the trades, construction trades, so a painter, and my company's got me working with like five, eight other guys in the interior of a house. I'm wondering, we're feeling unsafe, but we need to work. So how are we going to handle this?

I think construction is the toughest issue we woke up talking about this morning, because there's all sorts of construction, residential, commercial construction on health care facilities, construction simply to stabilize in place the work that's already been done so it doesn't present a danger. We are in active conversations with the governor's office, the State Department of Health and our own public health agency about what type of construction is allowed and not.

There's a lot of construction that at least superficially, can be done without close contact. And I understand the desire of folks to continue to pull paycheck. I've been very much an advocate for tailoring the regulations to take on the virus and not create the collateral damage of economic decline and personal financial insecurity.

But the fact is that we have a lot of situations like your caller describes, where construction is not safe. And I think the governor's order likely prohibits that sort of thing. We're going to be digging into that with the governor's office.

And I think this two week period that [the governor] mentioned, the minimum two weeks, in my view -- personally, I'm not quoting the governor on this -- is a time when we can take a break, a break from transmission of the virus, a break to understand if you've already been infected and therefore you can avoid infecting others. And a break to fine tune the protocols that might be required for us to carry on some of these businesses in a way that is much, much safer and is protective of the workers and the public.

Cal from Puyallup: I get around, I'm mobile, I live in a van. I take good care of myself. But now everything I use to do that is gone. I do Internet at the library: Gone. I do workouts and hygiene at a fitness center: Gone. I charge things at various places, stores and things. Seating areas: closed. What are we to do? My perception is that our facilities for the homeless are inadvertently rubbed out in the course of keeping people distance.

Well, first of all, I hear you. I mean, this is an issue that I've continued to bring back to the table whenever we're having these conversations. These restrictions are fine for those of us who are privileged, who have a home to retreat to, have a backyard, who have a basement with supplies in it, who are able to weather a fairly lengthy time of not being able to interact with businesses and public facilities. But that is just not the case for a lot of people.

And we've been pushing in King County to create more facilities that we can actually staff and have available for folks who are living without all of the niceties many of us take for granted, to be able to live safely in those environments and we're continuing to do that.

Your particular case is an interesting one because you have your own residence. It is, you know, your van, but it is a place that you've made adequate by being able to access all of these other community resources that are now cut off. And I think this has got to be an important and urgent part of the conversation, because there are a lot of people in your same position.

Here's my main message for you, Cal and for everyone: in this situation, we have to adopt the ethics, the commitment that no person is going to be left behind. Not the old, not the sick, not those who are living in homelessness. And we cannot simply say, well, we've done the best we can. And the rest of it is just beyond our control.

We have to continue to push 24 hours a day to do things like we are doing in King County to create the additional beds that the recovery, the assessment, the isolation and quarantine centers, so that the hospitals don't become overwhelmed. We've got to push to get more ventilators built and get more masks made. We have to push and push and push.

And I talked with my staff yesterday about this. It is never okay for us to retreat to the conversation I saw in the media last week about, well, we're just going to have to pick winners and losers at some point. No, we are all in this together. We have to get each other through it.

Winners and losers in the context of a health care system -- you're referring to the idea that we're just not going to have enough beds and vital equipment and so there's going to have to be -- I've seen it headlined -- death panel type decisions. Are you saying that's the wrong way to think about it? It prevents us from from not letting that happen, or are you guaranteeing that that's not going to happen?

I am saying that we collectively have to reject that and do everything within our power to put ourselves in a position to save every life that can be saved. That is one thing. I cannot do the impossible. But I can do as close as possible to that.

And I think we need to really call upon ourselves not to simply say, well, I'm OK, I'm hunkered down in my comfortable house. This will pass. We have to get out there and we have to make the things happen that will save lives. And that's what we in King County are doing. I know our counterparts in other governments are doing that.

And anytime I see one of those headlines about, well, you know, the hospitals are going to decide who lives and who dies. I think we have to immediately reject that. It's immoral and it's unacceptable and we still have time to save lives.

Are you able to track our how our health care system is holding up and taking in, emergency new facilities, new supplies? Are you able to tell us, 'here's where we are on the health care capacity curve?'

I can't tell you right at the moment. I can tell you that some of the hospital capacity is being strained right now, but the cases have not risen as quickly as we had originally projected.

That could be for a number of reasons, including that people have heeded the call over the course of the last three weeks and curtailed their activities so that the rate of increase in infections is lower than it otherwise would have been. It's still too early to see how great an effect those measures have had, and it will be many more weeks before we see what effect the most recent order has.

But I will tell you that we are preparing in King County for thousands, perhaps 3,000 additional beds for either assessment and recovery -- and those are in these large tent like settings that are going to be seeing around the county -- or isolation and quarantine, which might be like the motels that we've acquired in Kent and Issaquah and other buildings elsewhere, like the modulars we're putting up.

And then there are two field hospitals that we're getting from the federal government. And we're in the process right now this afternoon of siting those. And those are large, fully equipped hospitals, temporary hospitals, that will go up in two different locations in the county. All of this is a massive logistical effort, it is like a huge military campaign.

You said you're not able to tell us now where these field hospitals are gonna go. I remember when you bought that motel in Kent, the mayor of Kent said she wasn't adequately consulted and didn't appreciate it. I don't know whether she still feels the same way -- we're farther along in this outbreak. But what can you tell communities who might have concerns about a facility put in their area?

You know, the field hospitals will likely be on public land of one sort or another. And my message to people in communities is, all of us need to embrace this response effort. This is what's going to save people. This is what's going to get our community through. This is what we need to protect our own families.

There, you know, regrettably, is not time for the kind of process we are used to here in the greater Seattle area when we're on this emergency footing and we do our best to reduce impacts in communities. But the fact is, there are people walking around right now in every single community in Central Puget Sound who have already been infected with this virus and we need to act quickly.