Social distancing

At a community meeting at the Ocean Park Fire Hall to discuss how to get food to people, participants sat six feet apart.

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of

civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

—Thomas Jefferson

Where does one start to describe this past week when there are so many threads to follow? Morning, afternoon, and evening I’m imbibing a steady stream of news from people and places around the globe. Sorting the facts and processing the information is an important job for every citizen. So let’s start with some not so encouraging news and move on to some of the inspiring actions being taken in our community.

First, you may already know that one of our very own Washingtonians from Mercer Island, a 17-year-old no less, Avis Schiffmnan, created a site to track the virus globally. It’s still the best source of real-time information I’ve found anywhere. Check it out: ncov2019.live .

Zero confirmed cases and close to zero capacity

Last Thursday I managed to snag Katie Lindstrom, director of public health and human services for Pacific County, and Stephanie Michael, health services program manager and incident unified commander for the current pandemic, for a conversation about some basic county information. Here’s what I found out.

When I asked about the all-important issue of covid-19 testing, Katie said, “Right now we have zero confirmed cases, but we’ve had limited testing because of the lack of supplies. We’re working our darndest to get supplies in the county.” (Please note that this situation is changing daily, sometimes hourly, so this news may already be obsolete. Check out the county Emergency Operation Center for official postings: https://co.pacific.wa.us/EOC/covid-19/press-release/directory.html.)

Katie continues, “We’re trying to be the liaison for testing equipment and personal protection equipment [PPE]. Last week we made a request to the state for assistance. But the state has received over 7,800 requests for resources and they were able to fill only 70. Urban areas are higher on the priority list than our county.” Unfortunately, this is despite the fact that Pacific County has a higher percentage of elders, vets, and homeless — so more people at higher risk than in other areas.

According to the official Washington State Department of Health site for March 20 (https://tinyurl.com/ssw9g85), 20,000 Washingtonians have been tested for the virus and there are now 8,000 more test kits (which — need we say this? — are a drop in the bucket). There is other relevant information here and also an official blog site — www.doh.wa.gov/coronavirus: so check this site often to keep yourself informed. You can also call the state with questions from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week, at 1–800–525–0127.

Local support

Americans, if nothing else, are ingenious and this is evidenced by the many local efforts beginning to rev up on the Peninsula. As Stephanie Michael says, “There have been an incredible number of people calling in to the county offering support in different ways: ‘Hey, I have a facility that could be used for quarantine,’ or ‘I am a retired nurse, how can I help?’”

Tom Downer, Jack’s Country Store owner, and Kathleen Sayce of the South Pacific County Community Foundation brought together a group of Peninsula movers and shakers to brainstorm on how to get food to folks who may not be able to go out and shop or cook for themselves.

“We’re tentatively calling it Pacific Store to Door,” said Kathleen, “although this might change. This all started with Tom and me talking about how we could feed people who can’t leave home. We’re trying to figure out systems for this, same with medicines. We’ve also been running through things people can do right now — like hire somebody to shop for you or do some neighborhood shopping. ‘I’m going out — what can I get for you?’ The next step is our local grocery stores finding an effective way to do curbside pickup. It probably wouldn’t be same day, but you could call in an order, pay online or by phone, and the store will tell you when you (or someone you know) could pick up your order.” (Note that the Ocean Park fire department may take over some of the administrative aspects of this effort.)

By the time you read this, curbside may already be working in some local stores. Some groceries are already creating special hours, usually in the early morning when the stores are at their cleanest, to allow in shoppers at risk — elders and others. Call your grocery to find out what they are offering.

As Kathleen says, “I don’t know when the virus wave is going to hit our area. We could be weeks or months away or it could happen next week. There will be a vaccine — we have some of the best medical labs in the country at University of Washington — but that’s 12 to 18 months away. In the meantime, we’re hoping that social distancing will put the Peninsula on the delayed end of the curve.”

At the first Pacific Store to Door meeting at the Ocean Park fire hall, Kathleen had to remind people to sit six feet away from each other. “It was funny; people automatically came in, grabbed a chair, and dragged it up close to a friend or someone they knew — it’s just human. I’m usually calling friends for hiking this time of year. But instead I’ve discovered crosswords online!”

Meals to go

John Vale, manager of the Pacific Senior Activity Center in Klipsan, is gearing up for a meals to go program. “It’s sort of like ‘backpacks for kids’ — how they get food to last them through the weekend. We wanted to come up with the same sort of thing for seniors.”

The senior center “meal kits” program will start Friday, April 3, at a cost of $10. They’ll be composed of enough food to cover several meals. John continues, “Our first meal will be 16 ounces of turkey soup, an egg salad sandwich, a piece of fruit, a bag of small carrots and celery sticks with ranch dressing, a cinnamon roll, and spaghetti sauce (for another meal). All we ask is that you call in before hand so we know how many meals to make — 360-665-3999.”

“We usually serve 30 or 40 meals but we’re ready to prepare 50 to 60 if needed, or more, if people call in and let us know. Every week we’ll have a different menu. I also want to ask if restaurants have inventory they can’t use or would like to sell, we would be ready to purchase extra supplies. We’re also asking other chefs to bring things they might make to our kitchen and we can package and deliver the meals. For instance, Nanci Main may be making rolls, or cookies for us to include in our meal kits.”

Michael Goldberg has indicated that the Ocean Park food bank will continue with its normal hours. “So far we’re in good shape in terms of our supplies. We actually have a lot of protein right now, a lot of meat products. Our only change is that we are allowing only two people in the food bank at a time.”

Community care efforts are bubbling up in both North and South counties. Kathy Vale has organized some Peninsula quilters to begin making face masks. Nanci Main has suggested what she calls “Adopt a Neighbor.” If you are able-bodied, find one or two people in your immediate neighborhood who might need some extra help and make contact with them; let them know you’ll see them through for as long as is needed.

Be informed

Probably the most important thing to do now — along with social distancing and sanitary precautions — is to keep yourself informed. Per Jefferson’s instructions above, being “ignorant” is dangerous for everyone.

There are two hotline numbers to call for county questions: 360-875-9407 (North County) and 360-642-9407 (South County). In some ways this crisis is similar to the Big Gale of ‘07-’08 except that it will require the community to pull together for an extended period of time. Be safe, be well, and take care of each other.

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