Saturday, September 26, 2020

New state COVID-19 czar cautious as she starts job

Staff Writer | March 24, 2020 11:38 PM

OLYMPIA — While the steps the state has taken in the last two weeks to close down nearly all public gatherings and events have “started having an effect,” it’s still too early to say what effect those steps have had, according to the state’s new COVID-19 czar.

“I can’t tell you that the tide is turning,” said Raquel Bono, a retired admiral and former head of the Defense Health Agency. “I don’t want to minimize this. I don’t think we’ve gotten past this.”

Bono, a skilled trauma surgeon who was named on Sunday to oversee the state’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, spoke at a Tuesday afternoon press conference, one of the first of what she hopes will be twice-weekly briefings.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States in late January with the first case reported in the Seattle area. It has since been found in all 50 states, with more than 52,000 cases — nearly half of them in New York — confirmed nationwide as of mid-Tuesday.

Bono, who comes to Washington as a research fellow at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said her first job in Washington state is to ascertain the state’s hospital capacity as well as the need for equipment, COVID-19 testing kits and medical personnel.

Only then can the state best decide how to use the two military medical field hospitals it has requested from the Defense Department’s Northern Command, Bono said.

“We will be getting a couple of field hospitals,” she said. “I don’t know how many beds, what personnel or the timing. We do know they are inbound, and we are working with Northcom to determine the best timing.”

Bono also said she believes that Gov. Jay Inslee’s “stay-at-home” order will also give state health officials more data and “a better idea” of the spread of the disease and where the state’s limited health care resources can be deployed.

As head of the Defense Health Agency, Bono’s job was to coordinate care between the three U.S. armed services. She said she is focused on gathering and using data to ensure that supplies are “most optimally used” and that no hospitals in the state are “left behind.”

“We do need to have our data,” Bono said. “Our ability to flatten the curve requires testing. Testing is extremely important.”

“My role is to align all our hospital assets so they can use that data,” she added.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at