Former Metro drivers take on new role as King County Health Ambassadors to slow the spread of COVID-19

Fatigue from months of quarantine and welcome summer weather have spurred an alarming rise in COVID-19 infection rates compared to early Spring, making it more difficult than ever to observe public health guidance to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Taking quick action, King County is launching a new COVID Health Ambassador Program next week to offer community outreach, education and health promotion resources to prevent COVID-19 transmission.

The first ambassadors already know King County: they are former METRO bus drivers redeployed to engage and inform neighborhood and community groups on the importance of social distancing, wearing facial coverings, practicing healthy hand hygiene, and observing phase-appropriate business and gathering standards.

“We must slow the spread of the virus, prevent infection rates from rising, and save lives, and the COVID Health Ambassadors will help us to do this,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine in announcing the new program. “Rather than lose valued public employees, we will invite them to continue their service to the community by promoting the health and safety of our residents in this time of need.”

The coronavirus has not only affected the health of the region, but has also seriously impacted the regional economy.  Reduced ridership and revenues to King County and METRO have resulted in reductions to some services and layoffs for some METRO bus drivers. The COVID Health Ambassador recruitment is now underway to identify and provide a choice for continued County employment for employees whose jobs will be, or have been, eliminated due to COVID-related economic conditions.

The King County COVID Health Ambassadors are half-time, Term Limited Temporary positions within King County’s Department of Community and Human Services. The first ambassador cohort begins on Monday, August 10, 2020 – with 16 ambassadors already signed up and more opportunities available to additional METRO bus drivers facing layoffs and others who volunteer for the program.

Ambassador training will focus on the basics of the coronavirus, including signs and symptoms, how to access free testing, social distancing, hand hygiene and proper use of face coverings, the importance of quarantine and isolation following exposure to COVID, the disproportionate impacts of COVID on communities of color, and tips and tools for supporting communities in a time of uncertainty and fear.

King County Health Ambassadors are not enforcement officials. Instead, they will contribute to a re-doubled countywide effort to slow the spread of COVID and preserve hospital capacity. Following their training, Ambassadors will be available with information and supplies beginning the week of August 17 at METRO high ridership stops and Transit Centers in communities disproportionately impacted by COVID, including the Burien, Tukwila, Federal Way and Aurora Transit Centers and the Kent Station, and at several higher ridership stops in downtown Seattle.

Ambassadors will host community mask giveaways, including events currently being scheduled at several sites in King County. More information on times and locations will be available soon.

King County residents’ concerted actions earlier this year were successful in bringing down the rate of infection, but COVID-19 cases have been increasing over the summer. Creating this new program is one of several steps King County is taking to join local residents in once again working to curb the spread of this dangerous virus.