When the first U.S. case of the coronavirus was confirmed in Everett, Washington back in January, PROTEC17 members at the Snohomish Health District (SHD) jumped into action. From epidemiologists to health educators, soon, all hands were on deck to try to track, contain, and quell fears about the disease known as COVID-19, which results from the virus.
Snohomish Health District
PROTEC17 member Mary O’Leary, who normally works to educate the community about vaccines is now working with SHD’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness Response team, supervising the coronavirus call center and checking cars into a mobile testing site in Everett. The call center is largely staffed by volunteers from the Medical Reserve Corps who direct people to the information and resources they need to stay healthy and safe. The questions that come in also help the health district determine how to best use their resources. The drive through testing center relieves some of the burden on local clinics so they can respond to other patient needs, and pools scarce resources for those most in need.
O’Leary is also still doing much of her regular vaccine education work, but from home. The coronavirus is providing a stark example of the importance of vaccines.
“Vaccines are a truly preventive health measure,” she said. “They help us build community immunity so diseases that were once very common have less of a chance to spread to vulnerable populations. When novel viruses, like H1N1 flu and COVID-19 start spreading, humans have no immunity, so we are all at risk of contracting the disease and suffering its consequences. Some of us get the disease and survive with immunity, but others are not so lucky. Once a vaccine is developed, we can become immune without having to suffer with the disease.”
As the disease spread rapidly in Washington state, Seattle and King County became the first major urban epicenter of COVID-19. PROTEC17 members all across King County government – from IT and Transit to Public Health – were tasked with new roles and protocols to help contain its spread.
Crystal Casely, a Medical Assistant at Seattle-King County Public Health, works at the downtown Seattle clinic. Typically, she’s working in primary care rooming patients, taking labs, and processing applications for the breast, colon and cervical health program. Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, she’s spent half of her time working outside at the testing site behind the clinic, where she screens patients, works with Health Medical Area Command (HMAC), and helps the “doc of the day” by getting vitals and onset information if a patient is experiencing symptoms.
In these difficult times, the downtown clinic, which serves many clients experiencing homelessness, has become even more of a safe haven for patients looking for information and COVID-19 related resources. The regular clinic is still open for patients needing prescription refills, and other medical attention.
“Our medical team has come together in a time of crisis,” said Caseley. “We are familiar faces to patients who may not have anyone else. Lots has changed, but I feel grateful that we have the capacity to help patients who feel safe coming to King County Public Health.”
Meanwhile, working partially from home, King County Information Technology (IT) LAN Admininstrator Will Murray, is helping to set up and keep the technology working for the HMAC, the call centers, and at the COVID-19 isolation and quarantine sites, as well as setting up hundreds of volunteers and contractors with the technology they need to lend a hand. Murray and his IT colleagues are also answering questions for thousands of King County workers who are now telecommuting.
“Our workload has increased significantly, but teamwork and support from PROTEC17 makes it all possible,” said Murray.
City of Portland
PROTEC17 members in IT at the City of Portland are also working to make sure essential public employees can do their work from home while Oregon residents remain under the stay-at-home order by Gov. Kate Brown.
Dat Nguyen, member-leader and IT professional, has continued to go into the office every day to get everyone up and running. Right now, he is responsible for buying additional computers and equipment to supply personnel in the Fire Bureau and the Emergency Coordination Center.
“It’s eerie to be coming into downtown right now, but I’m really grateful to have a job and be able to help,” he said. “Sometimes, when I’m the only person on the bus, it really hits home how much this has impacted everyone.”
Washington State Patrol
PROTEC17 members at the Washington State Patrol (WSP) – Communications Officers who staff the state’s emergency 911 call centers – have been fielding increased calls related to COVID-19. Some calls are coming into their dispatch from people who fear they have the disease.
“We’re referring those calls to different aid hotlines in their areas and encouraging people to call their physicians,” said Mindi Mezek, who works in the Bellevue call center.
Other people are calling because they want to know about potential driving restrictions related to COVID-19. Currently, there are no state border closures or checkpoints, and residents are allowed to travel freely but only out of necessity, per Gov. Inslee’s stay-home order.
Because WSP members are considered essential personnel, they are reporting to work every day. In the office, they are cleaning more and maintaining a safe six foot distance from each other, per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) social distancing recommendations.
COs are also trying to help keep WSP Officers safe on the road. When a call comes in requiring a patrol person – a car accident, for example – the COs are asking callers health-related questions, such as if they’ve had a fever or respiratory symptoms or if they’ve been in contact with anyone who has.
“We are trying to keep our officers safe, as they are on the very front lines, so asking some screening questions assists with that effort,” said Mezek.
She is very proud of her team, which includes Alise Brown, Aisha Dayal, Varinder Singh and Rosemary Videc, pictured above, and of all of the COs across the state, for the important work they are doing during the coronavirus and every day.
“Serving the public is our primary function and goal,” said Mezek. “One of the things I like best about my work is our team cohesion. We have been through some tough times in the last several years with staffing shortages, and it has really brought us closer together.”
As public employees who are essential to keeping our cities, counties, and states running, PROTEC17 members have stepped up during these challenging times. Whether continuing to do their regular work from home, or coordinating staggered start times with their co-workers in the office, to being redeployed or volunteering to help on the front lines, PROTEC17 members are demonstrating the true spirit of public service, and the union values of community and solidarity.
You can find more stories about your amazing fellow members throughout this issue. We didn’t have enough room to highlight all of the good work you all are doing, but please keep your stories coming for future issues by emailing Communications Director Deidre Girard at .