Now is the time to stay strong. Our lives have been turned upside down, but now - we can slowly start to build our new normal by following the Governor’s Safe Start plan. Video & full text here.
Once again, good afternoon and welcome to my Mayor’s Community Briefing on the how the COVID-19 pandemic is effecting our community. We are in the second week of the Governor’s Safe Start plan, it is comforting to have a plan and a path forward towards recovery. Thank you for your willingness to be part of the solution, and your sacrifices during this covid-19 pandemic.
We are all learning to navigate this together. COVID-19 is in our community - in Skagit County there are – 402 positive cases – 48 hospitalized – 14 deaths and – 221 recovered as of May 12. This threat to our community has created a lot of fear and anger. This is understandable. I know that this is hard. But now is the time to stay strong. Our lives have been turned upside down, but now - we can slowly start to build our new normal by following the Governor’s Safe Start plan.
The economic impact this virus is having on our community cannot overshadow the loss of a loved one from this virus, or the fear as a member of a high risk group with a compromised immune system. We cannot lose sight of why we are doing this. We must be compassionate toward our neighbor and our friends, and family. We must all act responsibly and wear a mask when we are in public or the work place.
As our business community begins to open, we need to adhere to social distancing protocols, and continue to find new ways to connect from a distance, over the phone, or online. Believe me - I want to go back to normal, I want us to open up our economy as much as anyone, but we must stay the course. We have a plan, and if we stay strong, and follow the four phases outlined by the Governor, then we can bring back our businesses safely, for the workers and the customers.
Safe Start Washington
Last week we reviewed the Governor’s four-phase plan for reopening our economy. We are in the middle of the second week of the first phase of the Governor’s plan. This Safe Start plan is a clear path forward in this time of uncertainty.
The Governor’s Office is issuing guidance for specific industries on how to safely reopen. Each business must adhere to these specific guidelines and safety criteria. This guidance is in place to maintain workplace safety and public health.
Safe Start Phase 1
Phase 1 of the plan continues a dialed approach to re-opening the economy, which began with the opening of some state parks and allowing construction previously underway to resume.
Each industry has requirements and work-site safety plans to implement before reopening. It addresses workplace safety, cleanliness, interactions with customers, and detailed step-by-step instructions for industries to follow to fully comply with the Governor’s order and to assure that our economy is reopening safely. Following three weeks of Phase 1, the Department of Health and the Governor will evaluate the state’s health indicator and determine if we can move to the next phase.
The Governor has issued guidance for the industries that can open in this phase including: vehicle and vessel sales, and drive-in religious services. He has also released additional guidance for businesses and services, including the ability for retail outlets to provide curbside service, pet walking and landscaping.
This phase also allows elective surgeries to resume. Island Hospital is bringing back some surgeries and opening up clinics and services. Not all elective surgeries are available yet, we will hear more information from the hospital as it scales up its services in line with the Governor’s guidelines.
Safe Start Phase 2
Phase two will include outdoor activities in small groups, as well as limited non-essential travel. Traditional dine-in restaurants, quick-serve food operations, fixed and mobile food trucks, hotel kitchens, cafes, juice bars, breweries, and public houses, will open at less than 50% capacity, with table sizes of less than 5, and no bar seating.
Hair and nail salons will reopen as well as in-store purchases in retail establishments with restrictions. Professional services will resume with telework being strongly encouraged.
We have heard a lot from our struggling businesses in this community and from the many employees of those businesses. As business owners start to think about how to reopen in a way that is safe for their employees and customers, there is a lot of uncertainty. The Governor’s Office aims to take away some of that uncertainty by creating new protocols and procedures that will get us back to business in a safe way.
We all must be patient and understanding during this time of transition, this new COVID-19 reality has challenged us, but I have seen many members of our community rise to this challenge.
Safe Start Phase 3
Phase three will be the beginning of resuming non-essential travel. All other business activities can resume, except for nightclubs and events with more than 50 people. Our local restaurants and taverns will be open, indoor gyms and movie theatres can open at 50% capacity.
At this time we will have a partial reopening of the Anacortes Library, Museum, and City Hall. We are working on how we can get back to safely do the City’s business in person once again.
Safe Start Phase 4
Phase 4 is a full return to public interactions. We will not reach this phase for weeks, even months and even then - social distancing is not going to go away. I know that this situation has been extremely difficult, it has been frustrating, and we are all anxiously awaiting a return to normalcy.
We have continue to acknowledge the reality and gravity of this threat - there are 1.4 million cases currently in the United States, and over 80 thousand people have died. This is a terrible tragedy. Globally there are 4 million cases, the total deaths worldwide near 300 thousand. There has been economic devastation but the loss of life is almost hard to wrap your head around, nearly 1,000 people have died just in our state. We need to regain our health and get back on track and the way to do this is to follow the Governor’s Safe State Washington plan.
The Anacortes Public Library, Anacortes Senior Activities Center, Anacortes Museum, and City Hall remain closed to the general public. Throughout this public health crisis the city has responded and assured the continuation of all City essential services, including public safety, solid waste services, water and sewer.
Our staff continue to find inventive ways to connect and are available by phone, email, and through many virtual events.
The Library staff is working hard to connect with our patrons virtually! This week the Library is hosting several story times as well as a virtual teen writing group. This is a great tool for families to take advantage of if you are looking for new way for young students and teens to get engaged in library activities.
We are closely monitoring the state’s guidelines and will follow them as restrictions are loosened. Last week the Dog Park on H Avenue was able to reopen and Heart Lake is open to fishing. We have posted signs at the shoreline with social distancing guidelines and we have not seen people congregating together in large groups so we appreciate everyone following the guidelines.
The City has been closely monitoring the State’s guidelines and the City has made the decision to close Washington Park’s Campground effective May 11.
Washington Park Campground
In order to meet the requirements of the State’s phased reopening, we will need to close the campground until it is allowed under recreation guidelines. We anticipate that the campground will be closed until June, however we may need to extend that closure if directed to by the State requirements. Those with campground reservations will be refunded and if you have any questions please feel free to reach out to our parks department staff. While the Playgrounds, picnic shelter and fire pits are currently closed and the Loop Road is closed to vehicle traffic on weekends, Washington Park will remain open for walking and daily exercise.
Many of you may have heard about the Skagit Chorale group that met in early March, there were some of the earliest reported cases in our county. Recently the CDC published information on the cluster of cases that happened as a result of a practice on March 10. The report’s findings can shed light on how dangerous large group gatherings could be in areas where community transmission of COVID-19 is happening.
There was only one known symptomatic and infectious person at the March 10 practice. There was no physical contact reported between attendees, although they were within 1 to 6 feet of each other. They were together for two and a half hours for a choir practice in a large room, breakout group practiced in smaller rooms, and snack breaks. After the practice, 52 out of 60 attendees fell ill, three were hospitalized and two died.
Nearly all individuals who attended the practice reported that they were already self-isolating or quarantining prior to initial contact by the health department, this quick response undoubtedly prevented others from getting ill. This incident illustrates the critical importance of physical distancing.
What we can take away form this is that social distancing is absolutely vital to combatting COVID-19 in our community. People should not gather in groups, and need to avoid crowded places.
This tragic situation shows us the risk of gathering in large groups. As the County evaluated that risk they determined that the threat that large scale events pose to the health of the community is too great. Skagit County Public Health Officer Dr. Leibrand issued guidance that communities should cancel or postpone all large scale events, including festivals, parades, fireworks shows and festivals through the summer. The City has taken these recommendations very seriously.
City of Anacortes Summer events
Based on the recommendations of the County Health Department, the City of Anacortes has made the decision to cancel the Kids Fishing Derby, Bark in Park, Kids R Best Fest, and the Art Dash. The City of Anacortes Parks and Recreation Department is evaluating the remainder of our summer programs to find ways to adapt or postpone our recreation programs.
The City’s priority is public health and we believe that physical health is an important component of public health. If possible we will provide programming in a socially distanced or virtual capacity.
One of the elements of Bark in the Park is a pet food drive, we believe we can do this drive in a way that facilitates social distancing. Details will be available on the Parks and Recreation Department’s web page soon. The City is also exploring ways to offer the Art Dash as a “virtual run” where participants could run their own course, log their time, and still be a part of the event.
4th of July
Due to community health and safety concerns from COVID-19, the City of Anacortes is cancelling its Fourth of July town photo and patriotic parade. The City is also postponing the community fireworks display until it is safe for larger groups to gather, hopefully later in the summer. This decision was extremely difficult to make. I know that the 4th of July Parade and town photo are important events and this decision was made understanding that my number one priority is your health and safety.
We have had to make many sacrifices for the health of our community health and to assure the wellbeing of Anacortes residents. I know that we are strong a resilient and we are already thinking of ways that we can celebrate our nation’s independence this Fourth of July in a way that complying with these COVID-19 restrictions.
Please remember that Fireworks are still banned within City limits. The City will work with community partners and I will have more information for you next week on what innovative ways we may be able to celebrate this 4th of July.
Other Summer Events
The City has is asking that event organizers who have not canceled or postponed events scheduled for this summer to review the County’s recommendations and cancel or postpone based on their ability.
The event organizers for the following events have made the difficult decision to cancel their events: Shipwreck Day, Oyster Run, and the Boat Show. The Waterfront Festival is being postponed.
I understand your frustration and how devastating it may be do lose these beloved community events. We are all adapting to the quickly evolving nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and reacting to the recommendations to cancel some of our communities’ most beloved summer events. The City will continue to work on innovative alternatives to these events so we can connect even when we are apart.
Local Fiscal Impact
The City is working to prepare for the effects of decreased sales tax revenue. At my May 27th briefing, I expect to have information on the impact on sales tax revenue for the first two weeks of the stay at home order in March. Steve Hoglund, our Finance Director, will brief the City Council on the financial impact of COVID-19 on May 26.
While many of our businesses remained closed, we will continue to see sales tax revenue decrease and that will have an impact on our local economy. The City is projecting a 1.8 million dollar shortfall in sales tax revenue. Through a process of closely re-evaluating each departmental budget we have found corresponding budget reductions.
During this difficult time we understand that many residents are suffering financial hardships, we will not be turning any water off even if you cannot make a payment. The City Council also passed an extension to Resolution 2082 continuing the implementation of spending restrictions, hiring freezes, and all spending at the city continues to be heavily scrutinized.
Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) - Small Business Stabilization Grants
The City Council and I are committed to helping out our small businesses. Our community is full of people who work hard, provide exceptional services, create art, and places where we all love to spend our time. The Small Business Stabilization Grants are a way to help with the cost of starting your businesses back up again once the Governor Issues industry guidance and we are in a phase where it is safe to reopen.
These grants are for up to $10,000 for businesses located in Anacortes with not more than 30 employees. The application and fact sheet is available on the City Website. Applications will be accepted through May 29. These applications will be reviewed by a group of six community members representative of the Anacortes businesses community.
Access - Anacortes’ Fiber Internet team is busy placing customers in service. This week Access began the transition to in-home installations in accordance with Governor Inslee’s construction reopening workplace safety guidelines. Customers who prefer a no-contact installation can still chose that option.
In this time where we find ourselves home and using the internet for everything from working, learning, and to connecting with our friends and family – it is apparent that high speed internet is necessary in our community. We have completed 122 installations and look forward to reaching your neighborhood soon.
By the numbers
As of today May 12 Island Hospital has tested – 799 people and currently reports 28 - positive cases. 14 of those cases are inpatient, there are – 7 outpatient cases and – 10 emergency room cases.
Slowing the Spread
Epidemiologists study the spread of COVID-19, and the more we know about COVID-19 the better we can combat it. We are focusing on widespread testing for people who are currently sick, and contract tracing. Skagit County Public Health is working hard to ramp up capacity for both, we must do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19. Please get yourself tested at the first sign of symptoms.
Research on COVID-19 is still inconclusive, and we do not know if a person who has recovered from COVID-19 will be immune going forward. So it is the responsibility of every single person to practice social distancing and good hygiene.
Our business community is stepping up to help slow the spread by implementing checklists and procedures for employees to assure safe and sanitary practices, measuring the distances between table s at restaurants, providing employees personal protective equipment, proper physical distancing in lines and at retail stores, and training for staff.
In order to move to phase two of Governor Inslee’s plan, Washington State will need to have robust testing, isolation and contact tracing capability. Skagit County Public Health has worked hard to do its part to meet those goals, The County’s Drive-through testing is available in the parking lot of Skagit Valley College. The drive-through testing site is able to test up to two hundred people per day.
The site runs 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. There have been over thirteen hundred tests completed with 52 positive results as of May 8. The increased testing capabilities supports Washington State moving to phase two of Governor Inslee’s plan as soon as possible.
The test is a simple nasal self-swab, and is not painful. It take an average of 15 minutes to go through the whole testing process from the moment you pull into the parking lot. They will test anyone with COVID symptoms, as well as any healthcare workers or first responders, anyone who works in the meatpacking industry, lives or works in a close setting where or anyone who is a close contact of a confirmed case.
Island Hospital has been an important partner with the City and has worked tirelessly to maintain the safety of its patients and employees. I want to thank them and the entire community of Anacortes for stepping up and showing our support for Island Hospital. We are all frustrated and tired of staying home as the weather improves each day. Thank you for providing meals, face masks, hand sanitizer, housing, face shields, and other supplies to our healthcare workers. We have never lost sight of the importance of supporting and lifting up our healthcare workers. No matter what, without hesitation our community shows up for Island hospital.
On May 5, the Giving Tuesday Now campaign raised $15,000 dollars. This is enough for 2-3 months of Personal Protective Equipment for the hospital. It is really heartwarming to see such generosity in a time where we can feel so isolated from one another. This reinforces what I have always known, that Anacortes is a caring community. Thank you so everyone who donated and thank you to everyone who is doing their part every day by staying home.
Questions and Answers
- Is the City Canceling all events for the entire summer?
Due to community health and safety concerns from COVID-19, the City of Anacortes is cancelling or postponing many of its summer events. The City is also postponing the community fireworks display until it is safe for larger groups to gather. The city is also asking for other event organizers in the City to look at canceling or postponing their events. We will closely watch the guidance from the state as to when they determine that group gatherings are safe.
- At what time and with what type of preparation will spiritual support groups, bible studies, be able to meet?
The Governor’s phased plan allows for congregating in groups of 5 or less in phase two. So with appropriate social distancing and sanitation measures, a group of 5 or less could meet. Many support groups and spiritual groups are larger than that however, so most likely it will not be safe to gather until guidance is issue for phase three. Phase three allows for non-essential travel and groups up to 50 gathering. At this time there is no specific guidance or preparation for support groups and spiritual groups, but there will be guidance on group gatherings and how to make everyone feel safe and comfortable.
The tension of balancing our safety and health from the virus against the severe economic fallout is part of our worldwide landscape. In Italy and in the state of Maryland, they lifted their lockdowns last week only to see a big jump in COVID-19 cases.
Closures of our ballparks and campgrounds, and canceling our beloved 4th of July celebrations, is devastating. This celebration of our independence is core to who we are. This virus has disrupted our lives, personally, socially, economically, and civically. This virus has devastated our health care system and some of our personal health, and we have lost lives.
For some there is anger, and demanding we return to normal, and from all of us wanting safety from the virus. We must stay strong, not overreact, because we are all exhausted and financially impacted. I do understand that this will have a lasting impact on your lives, as in every community in the world. But to stop now is not an option. Even if we disagree with our county and state’s approach, rules and phases. I care about each of you and your health and your struggles. At the City we will follow this phased approach and we will prevail. We look forward to a healthy community.
These are still uncertain times. I have seen so much generosity in Anacortes, which has given us all hope and help to the front line workers, and those most in need. This is Anacortes.