Whatcom Unified Command (WUC) was activated on March 16, as COVID-19 cases began to emerge locally. WUC was established to provide an integrated, coordinated, multi-jurisdictional response in partnership with the Whatcom County Health Department, the City of Bellingham, Whatcom County, the County Sheriff’s Office and the Lummi and Nooksack tribes. Since April 20, WUC has operated under delegated authority from Whatcom County, the City of Bellingham, the Sheriff’s Office, and the Lummi Tribal Council to lead the community’s COVID-19 response.
September 16 marks six months of active WUC response. Over the past half-year, in support of partners and community need, WUC work targets key priorities: life safety; continuity of government; essential social services; and economic impacts. To that end, Whatcom Unified:
- Assisted in Drop-In Center’s move, first to Bellingham High School and then to BaseCamp in downtown Bellingham, in order to ensure those without housing could shelter safely while maintaining social distance;
- Led support for long-term healthcare facilities experiencing significant outbreak of COVID-19;
- Acquired and distributed masks to support reopening businesses as well as PPE and masks for the community’s most vulnerable;
- Developed and maintains an Isolation and Quarantine facility in Bellingham, with plans for others, if needed;
- Provided food bank support, including stocking boxes and delivering food to those who could not safely access their own, once food banks were forced to close;
- Developed options for, and implemented, mobile testing now available in every school district in Whatcom County every week; and,
- Established and maintains a volunteer base to provide operational, field support for all WUC programs.
Since WUC was first activated, volunteers have provided the resource to maintain essential services.
Through August 31, WUC volunteers covered 2,882 shifts, contributed 9,520 hours of service, and have driven 14,482 miles. In Washington, volunteer time is valued at $33 per hour, which means that over nearly six months, volunteers contributed nearly $315,000 in essential service. At a time when local budgets are pinched by shrinking revenue due to COVID restrictions, including the international border closure, WUC and its volunteers have ensured community COVID response can continue.
The need for volunteers continues, as well. Those willing to help the community respond to and recover from COVID-19 can sign up on WhatcomCOVID.com. Volunteers are needed to:
- Help with phone registration for people requiring COVID testing;
- Check in those who arrive at the mobile testing sites for testing;
- Stock food bank shelves and load food bank boxes;
- Assist with traffic control at food bank distribution sites; and
- Provide licensed medical support.
Volunteer shifts are typically two-to-five hours in duration. Volunteers have the option of trying out different positions to find their best fit. WUC volunteers are considered emergency workers providing essential support. They will receive background checks, training, and will be provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) as needed. For the protection of those served as well as their own, volunteers adhere to social distancing and mask protocols.