COMMENTARY: Three years later, COVID-19 response continues

By Nigel Turner

The first reported case of COVID-19 in the United States was identified in western Washington on Jan. 20, 2020. The next day, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department activated a response team and got right to work thanks to planning we’d started earlier that month. Three years later, we know a lot more about this deadly disease and how to keep our community safe.

As we look to the future and how we will continue to respond to COVID-19, we acknowledge COVID’s tremendous toll on all of us. This pandemic deeply affected every aspect of our lives. It has changed all of us, and we know more than ever that we need to work together to improve our community’s health.

Too many of us are grieving lost loved ones. More than 1,500 Pierce County residents have died of COVID-19.

We know COVID-19 disproportionally affects people with adverse social, economic and environmental conditions. Because of structural racism and other factors, that burden has been felt most often by Black, indigenous, and people of color. Even before COVID-19 arrived, we worked to help make health outcomes more equitable. During the pandemic, that’s meant being in the community, partnering with organizations that serve marginalized populations. We want to ensure everyone has access to the same life-saving resources—and close the gaps some experience. That work will continue. We are building on the community engagement efforts and bringing that approach to all areas of public health. That means we show up for the community wherever we can and support others who do the same.

These past three years, we’ve faced a global health crisis unlike any other in our lifetimes. We’ve lost far too many. We’ve also saved lives. With your help, we have protected families, friends and neighbors.

Washington had one of the lowest death rates from COVID-19 in the country. In Pierce County, we:

  • Investigated tens of thousands of cases and outbreaks to help prevent transmission.
  • Supported more than 1.8 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered to residents.
  • Conducted hundreds of testing and vaccination clinics, from drive-through sites to vaccinating homebound folks.
  • Distributed more than 450,000 test kits.

As COVID-19 continues to spread, so do other respiratory illnesses. We saw a sharp increase this fall and winter in influenza and respiratory syncytial virus infection (RSV). The combination of all three diseases circulating in our community contributed to record absenteeism at local schools and loss of work for many employees.

A new omicron subvariant, XBB.1.5, is gaining traction in the eastern part of the U.S.

Our local wastewater data recently showed a spike in COVID-19. Our case dashboard also showed a moderate increase over the holiday season, with the highest transmission in people over 80.

Thankfully, flu activity and the spread of respiratory illnesses has slowed in recent weeks. But if we’ve learned anything the past three years, it’s that we need to stay prepared.

Learn more at, and find your dose of COVID-19 vaccine today at Find tools to keep you and your family’s home safe at


Nigel Turner, who works in the communicable disease program of Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, wrote this article Jan. 31 for the department’s Reliable Sources blog.