July 16, 2020

At BCS, workforce diligence, COVID-19 data create hope for the future

“Most people who become sick with COVID-19 will only experience mild illness and can recover at home.”Mayo Clinic

That statement is proving to be true in Whatcom County, where the efforts of health officials, local business leaders, the labor force and citizens have helped ensure that 99.973% of Whatcom County residents have not had to be hospitalized due to COVID-19.

Data collected between Feb. 1 and July 15, 2020, through months of market disruption, countless regulatory changes and high levels of personal chaos, show that businesses leaders, essential workers and citizens have proven to be resilient and effective regarding COVID-19 management. That’s great news!

Leaders at Bellingham Cold Storage, for example, have taken a proactive approach to safety and sanitation at their two warehouse campuses.

“We’ve been concerned from the start, and we have done whatever we can to minimize risk and exposure; we keep learning and evolving our best practices,” said Doug Thomas, BCS president and CEO.

High exposure, minimal COVID-19 cases.

Hundreds of thousands of personal interactions have taken place on BCS properties since the start of the pandemic. People who travel across the nation and around the world come and go daily via ships, trains and trucks as BCS helps food producers store and transfer their perishable products.

Despite the potential for exposure, BCS employees and others employed by companies operating on BCS-owned properties have seen very few cases of COVID-19.

To date, there have been five confirmed cases among people associated with BCS’s value-added processing and cold storage warehouse campuses in Bellingham. Through contract tracing, it was found that the source of infection in all five cases came from outside of BCS. All individuals recovered at home, and all returned to work with permission from the Whatcom County Health Department.  And none of those five cases resulted in a spread to others working within the two BCS complexes.

The fact that the virus didn’t spread among co-workers is a testament to the careful observance of COVID-19 protocols, which are guided by Whatcom County Health Department, the U.S. Coast Guard’s Marine Terminal Vessel Safeguard policy, and the BCS leadership team.

New safety strategies continue to evolve.

In May, BCS changed the way it facilitated wellness assessments by purchasing digital thermometers for each employee, so temperatures could be taken before arrival at work. That change reduced the chances that someone would come to BCS with any COVID-19 symptoms.

“Now, everyone takes their temperature at home, so they don’t unknowingly expose others to symptoms during an on-site wellness assessment,” Thomas said.

To manage self-reporting, BCS also set up a texting program that helps staff report the results of their at-home assessment. An automated text is sent to all workers daily at 5 a.m. for day shift and 2 hours before the start of both swing and graveyard shifts. BCS staff respond to this text with their employee number, temperature and answers to yes-or-no symptom screening questions, such as whether they have had a headache or any respiratory symptoms not caused by other factors, such as allergies.

Employees who answer ‘no’ to all screening questions are cleared to work for the day.

“The people who work on BCS campuses continue to do incredible work,” Thomas said. “They are focused on safety and sanitation as they work to keep the food chain constantly replenished.”

Data creates hope for the future.

What Doug Thomas hopes citizens will see is that the business community is doing everything it can to keep products and services moving while simultaneously protecting the workforce and consumers. He is encouraged by the high percentage of people who recover at home from COVID-19 in Whatcom County.

“As a society, we will feel the impacts of COVID-19 for years to come,” Thomas said. “However, there is hope in the numbers. We have seen that a very low percentage of people who test positive for COVID-19 succumb to the virus, and we continue to see people recover and return to daily living without medical assistance. That is encouraging; as a community and as a nation, we will get through this.”

Community COVID-19 data

Whatcom County labor force: 119,541 people (May 2020, Washington State Employment Security Department)

Whatcom County population: 229,247 people (2019, United States Census Bureau)

The following COVID-19 data was published on the Washington State Department of Health’s website July 15, 2020. The numbers may have been updated since then.

On the state DOH website (and in the image below, accurate as of July 15), you’ll find cumulative data. This data shows the total number of confirmed cases, hospitalizations and deaths since the Washington State Health Department began tracking the pandemic on Feb 1, 2020. Here are the numbers as of July 15:

→ A total of 725 people have tested positive for COVID-19. That number represents 0.316% of the population of Whatcom County.

→ Sixty-three people have been hospitalized for COVID-19 symptoms since Feb. 1. That number represents 0.027% of the population of Whatcom County.

→ Thirty-six people have died from COVID-19-related symptoms since Feb. 1. That number represents 0.0157% of the population of Whatcom County.

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