Libraries and other organizations are canceling events after recent confirmation of a local COVID-19 case, even though Clark County Public Health hasn’t yet recommended taking that step.
Beginning Friday, Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries will cancel all storytimes and events through March 27. That’s an estimated 300 events at 12 branches across the three counties.
“It’s an abundance of caution, but we feel like it’s a good decision,” said Amelia Shelley, executive director of Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries. “We want to be sure that the library is not contributing to bringing people together unnecessarily. As a public institution, we have a role in helping to contain the virus and prevent people from being exposed.”
The library branches will continue to operate normally otherwise, with some extra cleaning, Shelley said. The window of cancellations for Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries may be extended if Washington’s coronavirus outbreak doesn’t abate, Shelley said.
Camas Public Library, which operates independently of the regional system, canceled all of its events through March 31.
Attendance has fallen for many events anyway, several organizations said. They added that they are heeding federal and state public health messages about “social distancing” — that is, staying away from large groups of people — to curb spread of COVID-19.
Twenty-four people in Washington have died from the disease, with the outbreak centered around the Seattle area.
At this point, Clark County Public Health is not recommending or mandating event cancellations over COVID-19 because there isn’t evidence that the virus is widespread in Clark County. One case was confirmed Friday; 17 tests are pending.
Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick said the county is currently in what he refers to as the “containment phase” with an emphasis on testing, quarantining close contacts of confirmed cases and active monitoring of those contacts for virus symptoms. If cases increase, the response effort will gradually change from containment to mitigation.
At that point, closing movie theaters, canceling events, closing schools or asking that people older than 60 refrain from group settings needs to be considered. Fifty-six percent of Washington’s 267 cases are 60 and older.
Gov. Jay Inslee instituted rules for long-term care facilities on Tuesday, restricting visits to a resident’s room, and screening for symptoms before entry.
COVID-19 at a nursing home in Kirkland has killed 18 residents.
“The risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 appears to be higher in people 60 years or older and in those with chronic health conditions,” Inslee said in a news release. “And we know there is an increased risk among people … in congregated settings, such as long-term care facilities. We need to protect our older adults, and these rules will help.”
In Clark County, quilting and other clubs with older participants have made the decision to cancel, even without government intervention.
AARP Foundation Tax-Aide, the nation’s largest free, volunteer-based tax preparation and assistance service, suspended its clinics in Clark and Skamania counties, as well as in King and Snohomish counties.
“Tax-Aide is prioritizing the health of taxpayers, our volunteers, and the community at large and closing some of our locations until further notice,” said Lynnette Lee-Villanueva, AARP Foundation Tax-Aide vice president.
The Port of Vancouver postponed a lecture on global trade and a tour scheduled for this month to minimize the chance of spreading the virus.
“As much as we regret having to make this decision, one way we can do this is by postponing large group gatherings like our popular tours and lectures,” port CEO Julianna Marler said.
Canceling events isn’t a silver bullet by any means, and each organization needs to make decisions for itself, Melnick said.
He said when the state and county consider the possibility of recommending or mandating cancellations, they need to weigh three things: Is social distancing likely to be effective? What are the unintended consequences? Who’s likely to be affected by the social distancing?
For example, if a school decides to close, how long will it remain closed? What happens to kids when they don’t attend school for the daytime? Are they sent to other congregate settings like a neighbor’s house or a community center? What about students who receive free or reduced-price lunches and who rely on the school for nutritional needs?
“When you start restricting people’s movement and you start doing these things, there are services that people lose,” Melnick said. “We need to be thoughtful about how we use social-distancing interventions.”