Cost of Washington’s Measles Outbreak Crosses $1 million; Expected to Climb Higher
The measles outbreak in Washington State has been a hot topic for discussions amongst lawmakers and health activists. The degree of spread was so high that Governor Inslee had to declare a health emergency.
However, recently it is reported that the cost of Washington’s measles outbreak has surpassed $1 million as more than 200 health-department staffers from the state and Clark County focus their efforts on the disease.
As of now, there were 63 confirmed cases of measles in Clark County, 44 of which were in children under ten years old, according to the county’s Public Health Department. The same department is also investigating one suspected case. As per the state Department of Health (DOH), there is also a single case reported in King County, bringing the statewide total to 64.
According to state epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist, who expects the total response to eventually cost the state “well over a million dollars,” DOH has spent around $614,000 on staff and supplies as of Tuesday, in addition to about $115,000 in other non-budgeted expenditures.
Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County’s public health director, says, Clark County Public Health has spent about $500,000 responding to the measles outbreak, bringing the state-wide total over $1 million.
“This is taxpayer money for something that could have been completely, utterly preventable in the first place,” he said.
As per Lindquist, out of around 1900 total staffers, 166 state Department of Health staff members, working approximately 8,700 hours, have been assigned to the measles outbreak so far. Some of them are infectious disease epidemiologists, usually focusing on issues such as hepatitis and day-to-day food-borne illness outbreaks — duties that have been mainly put on the back burner.
“It’s going to slow down everything else,” Lindquist said, noting that usual work is picked up by the remaining staff or is put aside. “The current public health infrastructure is really threatened by events like this.”
Each Department of Health staffer spends around two weeks at a time in Clark County, which means the state must pay for hotel rooms, their day-to-day costs and travel, as per Lindquist.
According to Melnick, out of around 110 full-time employees, Clark County Public Health has 40 to 50 staffers working on measles at any given time.
Epidemiological staff members, who were working on sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis among other health concerns, are being forced to shift their focus onto measles, as are environmental-health staff members, some of whom do restaurant inspections. Melnick says restaurants are still safe for eating because those inspections will be undertaken, though at a slower pace.
Two additional Epidemic Intelligence Service officers, who conduct outbreak investigations and are assigned by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They are scheduled to go to Clark County again Wednesday. Volunteers from the Medical Reserve Corps have devoted their time o the ongoing efforts.
According to Robert Ezelle, director of the department’s Emergency Management Division, the state Military Department’s Emergency Operations Center, which manages resources in support of the DOH, introduced in a five-person incident management team with medical specialties from North Dakota, which finished a 19-day stint in Washington on Monday, along with two disease investigators from Idaho, who were here from Feb. 2 to Sunday.
As per Ezelle, the North Dakota team cost the state just over $24,000, while the Idaho investigators cost a little more than $8,000.
Looking at the pace of the outbreak, there is no plan to bring more resources to Washington from other states, Ezelle says.
It should be reported here that Measles has spread since the start of the year primarily through children who aren’t vaccinated, with 55 of the 63 confirmed cases in Clark County in patients who have not been immunized. Clark County, which includes Vancouver, has high vaccine exemption rates for school-age children.
According to CDC, while the nonmedical exemption rate for kindergarten enrolment in the 2017-2018 school year was approximately 2 percent nationwide, Washington had an exemption rate on philosophical, personal or religious grounds of 4 percent. And Clark County had a 6.7 percent exemption rate, according to state health department data.
Lawmakers of Olympia have proposed two measures to tighten the personal or philosophical exemption used to excuse children from vaccines necessary for school entry so that there would be a lesser chance of an outbreak of such degree in future. The legislation would eliminate the objection for the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, while a Senate bill, the subject of a committee hearing Wednesday in Olympia, aims to do away with the personal exemption for all vaccines needed to attend school or a licensed day-care center.
As the cases are expected to come in waves, Tara Lee, a spokeswoman for Gov. Jay Inslee, said there is no end date for the state of emergency Governor declared on Jan. 25, which allows Washington to get resources from other states.
“We will keep it open as long as necessary,” Lee said. Lindquist, of the state DOH, says he is “cautiously optimistic” that the upsurge is slowing, but it’s too early to predict.
Clark County’s Melnick says that the outbreak will be considered over only after 42 days, or two full incubation periods, pass without any new cases.
“This could easily go on for another month or two,” he said. “Or even beyond.”
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