Good afternoon and welcome to the May 20 Mayor’s Briefing on how COVID-19 is affecting our community. The City is working hard to balance between the health and safety of our residents and facilitating an economic recovery. The situation continues to be fluid and we are learning as we go, we have been adapting to changing circumstancing and are building more resilient processes and procedures to accomplish the City’s business.
We have invited creativity and encouraged people to think outside the box about how to support our local businesses and assure our most vulnerable community members are getting the support they need in this trying time.
We are working across boundaries and are emphasizing coordination between departments. We are reinforcing our partnerships with other local cities by keeping in close contact with all the local Mayors. We have an open dialogue with our County Commissioners, State Representatives and Senators, the Governor’s Office, and with Congressman Rick Larsen’s Office. We are also working closely with Island Hospital and following the guidance of the Skagit County Health Department.
Although we are on an island, we are part of a larger, interconnected community, we are part of Skagit County, we are Washingtonians, and we are Americans all working together to slow the spread of COVID-19.
We are working hard so you can focus on what is important, your health and your family’s health. Right now there are a total of 425 cases and includes 243 recoveries, 50 hospitalizations and 14 deaths in Skagit County. What you do right now is important, I know that this is hard. We are getting ready for phase 2, which could be here in less than two weeks if we all commit to staying the course and staying home for now.
I want to make sure that we reach as many people as possible with these briefings and so this week we will be adding these videos to the City’s Official YouTube Page and starting next week we will be live streaming the briefing on the Anacortes Fire Departments Facebook page. Please follow the page so you can watch this briefing live on Facebook.
Safe Start Washington
We are on our way through phase 1 of the Governor’s recovery plan. We must stay strong, we are all exhausted and financially impacted. If we stay the course in the short term we will move towards the opportunity to get back to a sense of normalcy and recovery in the long term.
The gravity and devastation of this threat is real- there are nearly 1.6 million cases currently in the United States, and almost 100 thousand people have died. Globally there are 4.7 million cases, the total deaths worldwide near 317 thousand. The loss of life in our state is over 1,000 people. There are 1,000 families who have suffered a terrible loss of a loved one due to this virus. These numbers keep me committed to keep following the guidance of our health officials. The loss of life is tragic and each and every one of us play a part in helping keep our community safe and follow the Governor’s Safe Start plan.
Safe Start Phase 1
We should be seeing the end of Phase 1 soon, which should reinforce our commitment to staying home and staying safe so that when the Governor and Department of Health evaluate the state’s health indicators we can move on to phase 2, which will be a welcome change for many of us.
The Governor continues to release guidance for specific industries. 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 different industries to follow. Many industries that are able to open in Phase 2 have already received guidance so they can prepare and think about how they can get back to business in Anacortes when the time comes.
Businesses have been creative in finding ways to connect with customers through delivery, creation of new online ordering, some communities have even seen the return of the milk man! Staying connected in this time is not easy but through partnerships, the City’s Planning Department is working with downtown merchants and restaurants, on ways to expand services on sidewalk, creating a town plaza feel to our commercial district.
Currently vehicle and vessel sales, and drive-in religious services, retail outlets providing curbside service, pet walking and landscaping have had guidance for reopening in phase one. This week it was also announced that elective medical procedures may resume. That means that all medical and dental practice can assess their readiness to determine when they can begin to offer non-urgent medical and dental procedures. Island Hospital has reopened all services.
Safe Start Phase 2
As we eagerly look forward to phase 2, I want to commend the many business owners who are already working hard to implement new systems to maintain workplace safety and public health. The industries that can reference guidance issued by the Governor’s office are: construction, professional photography services, the pet grooming industry, personal services, and professional services.
For phase 2 all construction activities have been authorized to proceed, whether previously authorized, newly authorized, existing, or not existing. Prior to commencing work all contractors are required to develop a comprehensive COVID-19 exposure control, mitigation, and recovery plan.
Professional photography services include, studio photography and videography; event photography and vide/ography; and freelance and artistic work have been issued reopening guidance. The pet grooming industry including retail operations, veterinarian clinics, and other facilities that provide cleaning, trimming, and hygienic services for domestic animals has also been issued reopening guidelines and requirements.
Personal services include: cosmetologists, hairstylists, barbers, estheticians, master estheticians, manicurists, nail salon workers, electrologists, permanent makeup artists, tattoo artists, cosmetology schools, and esthetics schools. This does not include massage therapy, acupuncture, physical therapy, and chiropractic, which will receive separate requirements.
Professional services include: accountants, attorneys, architects, engineers, financial advisors, information technologists, insurance agents, tax preparers; and other office-based occupations. There has been an expansion on Golf requirements and recommendations for phase 2, in addition to the permission of certain 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.
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. Please review and closely follow the new protocols and procedures that are being issued by the Governor. That is the best way to assure we get back to business safely.
Safe Start Phase 3
Phase three is still many weeks away, but we at the City are already preparing for phase 3 because this is the phase where will be able to get back to doing some of the City’s business in person. Once we enter into Phase 3, we will have a partial reopening of the Anacortes Library, Museum, and City Hall.
When Phase 3 begins people will be able to fully resume non-essential travel. All other business activities will resume, except for nightclubs and events with more than 50 people. Our local restaurants will be allowed at 75% capacity and table sizes less than 10, indoor gyms and movie theatres will open at 50% capacity.
Safe Start Phase 4
Phase 4 is a full return to public interactions. We are expecting to arrive at this phase mid-summer. Even when we get to phase 4 physical distancing will not go away. I know that this situation has been extremely difficult, but it is important to remember that this is not permanent. Soon we will be able to have lunch, with friends, get our hair done, and get back to seeing each other in person. The City is working hard to facilitate this, we look forward to seeing you again soon, but for the time being we must stay home and keep ourselves and family safe.
The City’s response has been a commitment to maintaining services and keeping you informed. We are looking towards our recovery now and how we can build more resilient systems and processes at the City so we can be prepared to respond to any crisis. Our City employees are the cornerstone behind our essential services, and continue to work diligently serving the community.
The Anacortes Public Library, Anacortes Senior Activities Center, Anacortes Museum, and City Hall remain closed to the general public. Our Boys and Girls club will be looking at a limited reopening staring in June. The Boys and Girls club will have reduced capacity and there will be thorough safety measures put in place. The boys and girls club are located in the basement of City Hall.
Your local Police Department continues to protect our city. Although the lobby remains closed and we are not offering fingerprint services at this time the Police Department has also found innovative ways to stay connected. The department has done a few “birthday parade” requests for kids who are cannot through a birthday party this year.
Please do your part and follow our speed limits and do not use your cell phones while driving.
The Anacortes Police Department has received several reports of fraudulent unemployment claims from many local residents who are still working and have not filed for unemployment. If you are a victim, visit the Washington State Employment Security Department's website to file a claim and closely monitor your accounts for other fraudulent activity. The Washington State Employment Security Department's website is the best contact for victims since they issue a claim number and can deny and cancel fraudulent claims. If you have filed a claim on this site, there is no longer a need to call 911 to speak with an officer.
Emergency Medical Services
The Fire Department’s continued response to the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in significant changes to the way it does business. Thankfully, all of these changes are behind the scenes with regards to preparation, protection and decontamination.
The medical care delivered to our citizens by our EMS professionals has had no discernible change and continues to be fast, reliable, skillful and compassionate. Prior to responding on each emergency call, these EMS professionals must don facemasks, face shields, gowns, gloves and shoe protection. Immediately following each emergency call, all of the medical equipment and the entire ambulance must be cleaned and decontaminated, this occurs 10-12 times per day, every day.
The diligence of these outstanding men and women has resulted in no positive cases of the virus among Fire Department staff or transmission of the virus to patients they treat and transport to the emergency department.
Please join me in saying “Happy EMS Week” and give a heartfelt thank you to our Fire Department staff. This week we celebrate EMS first responders and the important work they do in our City and community. This year’s theme is “EMS Strong: Ready Today. Preparing for Tomorrow.” This theme is particularly meaningful now as we see the EMS community rallying to support those affected by this crisis, all while still responding to everyday emergencies that continue to occur in our City.
Thank you for your dedication and providing the day-to-day lifesaving services on the front line of this COVID-19 pandemic.
This week the library has two exciting virtual programs as part of their ongoing series. While the library has been closed, they've found new ways to reach our community. Tonight's episode of Together We Discover will feature one of Anacortes' oldest retailers, The Business, which began in 1978 and was recently named the best record store in Washington State.
Friday the library has partnered with the other Skagit County libraries to host a live author visit via Zoom at 2:00pm. Middle grade author Karina Yan Glaser, author of the popular series The Vanderbeekers will share her writing process with students and then answer questions live.
In upcoming weeks, look for special guest Story Times from local citizens, including an underwater adventure with Public Works, and a very special library Story Time with yours truly. The library staff miss seeing you every day, and asked me to thank you for reading and sharing with us while we stay safe at home.
The Washington Park Campground is closed and will reopen in Phase 2 in line with the Governor’s phased reopening to bring back camping.
Right now the Parks department is pursuing collaboration opportunities with the Library and museum. Staff is working together on summer program ideas for youths and adults. With the cancelation of summer events there is a void in summer educational and recreational opportunities in our community and we are working on creative ways to meet that need. 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.
Mother’s Day weekend was a struggle for parks around the state to enforce physical distancing. We were no exception. Our staff worked at Whistle Lake and major ACFL trail heads trying to limit parking and encourage distancing. Our parks staff is working really hard to provide outreach and educate the community on the importance of physical distancing, with Memorial Day weekend coming up parks staff will continue to be a presence to remind our residents and visitors that we all need to recreate responsibly.
Local Fiscal Impact
I continue to work closely with the Finance Director and other department heads to identify areas of budget opportunity, and at this point we have identified about 2.2 million dollars in budget savings in the current year. The City is working to prepare for the effects of decreased sales tax revenue. Late last week we received the sales tax revenue from March sales, which gives the first indication of the quarantine order effects on sales tax revenues, and it was 36% below budget.
Due to the City’s good fiscal stewardship and our proactive staff we are prepared to continue building efficiencies and resiliency into our City business. We know that businesses continued to slow down and close through the month of April, and we have closely monitored the nationwide metrics showing April retail sales dropping more than expected. Like local governments across the state and the country, we are bracing for a significant impact to governmental revenues over the next several months. We will continue to update you as we learn more and you can be assured we are working hard to be dynamic in our response to these budget shortfalls.
During the City Hall closure, customers also continue to take advantage of the City’s Utility Billing Autopay function, we have had 64 new autopay customers in the past month alone.
We have a very generous community, and over the course of the pandemic have had a number of residents reach out to the utility billing department and make a payment for a friend or family member. We also have had community members reach out and ask if they can help out to the general utility customer base, and for those we direct them to the Salvation Army, or St Vincent de Paul, who both have great systems to support those in need, including a utility billing assistance program. I would like to say thank you to all of you who have reached out to help, those actions is part of what makes Anacortes the wonderful community that it is.
Planning, Community, and Economic Development
Single Family Residential Permits are at 27 this year compared to 12 last year. Single Family Remodels to date are 50 compared to 57 last year. Overall, our total permit numbers year to date are 238 compared to 279 last year. We have seen less small permits such as plumbing and mechanical this year.
With construction starting back up we have been quite busy with inspections, virtually and on site. Some inspections are more complicated and require an onsite visit with health and safety protocols in place. Last week the Planning Department received over 100 phone calls. As business resumes we can tell that people are happy to get back to work, and we are happy to be here to help!
Small Business Stabilization Grants
The City Council and I are committed to helping out our small businesses. The Small Business Stabilization Grants are a way to help with the cost of starting your businesses back up again soon. To be eligible for these grants of up to $10,000, you must be a business located in Anacortes with not more than 30 employees. The application and fact sheet is available on the City Website. We have received 17 grant applications so far, and we will be accepting them through May 29. The decisions on who will be awarded the grants and how much will be awarded will be made by a group of six community members representative of the Anacortes businesses community.
The City of Anacortes Public Works is continuing to provide its basic public works services in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Safe and reliable drinking water; collection of trash, recycling and composting, wastewater processing, maintaining and improving our street system and providing street cleaning are among the many areas where things remain business as usual for the City and its residents. Trash, recycling and composting collections are continuing on their normal schedules.
Monday is Memorial Day though so if your collection falls on Monday, please place your cans out on Tuesday for normal collection by 7am.
With people staying home, some people have opted to increase their trash cart size, add composting service or add an additional trash cart. If you need an additional pre-paid garbage bag you can pick them up at Ace Hardware, Sebo’s Hardware and the Market Grocery Store, you can also call our utilities department for coordination of City Hall “Porch Pick-up.”
Public works has not slowed down, behind the scenes and while you do your part to stay home and stay safe, the City Public Works team has been completing essential work. Essential construction of the roundabout at the intersection of Oakes Avenue/Highway 20 Spur and Ship Harbor Boulevard/Glasgow Way continued through this crisis. This project includes stamped-brick pavement, pedestrian and bicyclist safety features, and a landscaped center.
The staff and crews adapted quickly to get the job completed while prioritizing the health and safety of employees and the public. With residents staying home and staying healthy traffic control went smoothly and allowed crews to work more efficiently. Thank you to Project Manager Steve Lange and SRV Construction for your dedicated service to provide safe routes for our residents.
The Public Works Department continues its annual plan to slurry seal neighborhood streets with this year’s work beginning July 13. Streets to be done this year will mainly be near D Avenue in the center of the city. A schedule of the specific streets being slurry sealed on specific days will released in the near future.
The installation of the new 8-inch water main and fire hydrants on Fidalgo Bay Road from the 35th and V Avenue intersection to Mansfield Court has also been completed.
Our facilities staff continues to work early mornings and late evenings to disinfect all our city facilities before essential staff arrive and they are conducting maintenance projects while the facilities are at reduced capacity, they are in the process of working on installing Plexiglas shields at the public facing counters area.
Our Public Works department has adapted to this crisis quickly and with the health and safety of Anacortes resident and our employees in mind. They are taking on projects and working on efficiencies to save the people’s money and time. The Public Works department continues to be an example of hard work and cooperation as it continues to provide exceptional service during this crisis.
City of Anacortes Summer events
Last week the City announced the decision to cancel the Kids Fishing Derby, Bark in Park, Kids R Best Fest, the Art Dash, and the Anacortes Community Energy Fair after the County issued its recommendations. The City has also issued an appeal to our other local 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 Days, Oyster Run, and the Boat Show. The Waterfront Festival is being postponed.
The City of Anacortes also made the difficult decision to cancel its Fourth of July town photo and patriotic parade. The community fireworks display is postponed until it is safe for larger groups to gather. The town photo is an important event and this decision was made understanding that my number one priority is your health and safety. Our Parks and Recreation Department is working on a way to celebrate our independence virtually and we will have more information on that to come!
Class of 2020
Class of 2020. Although the celebration of our students may look different, our community, our schools, and our families are still just a proud as ever of their accomplishments. The last few months have changed the world, our graduates are heading off into adulthood in an entirely different world than expected. The Class of 2020 is entering a world that did not even exist just a few months ago, these students have all these hopes, and there are so many unknowns right now but I believe that living in this unique time in history, although it may be challenging, it may also present opportunities.
The Class of 2020 deserves to be honored and the Anacortes School District is working on plans to ensure that. The Anacortes School District plans to hold virtual graduations on June 15 for Cap Sante seniors, June 16 for Anacortes Middle School 8th graders, and June 17 for Anacortes High School seniors. All ceremonies will be broadcast on YouTube live at 7 p.m. The district is also planning a community auto parade on June 17. More information will be available on the district's website soon. Your commencement may look and feel different than any we have seen in the past, but know that we will not let this moment pass without celebration.
By the Numbers
As of yesterday, May 19, Island Hospital has tested – 930 people and currently reports - 28 positive cases. The total positive hospitalized cases is 6 and there have been no deaths so far.
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.
Slowing the Spread
The County is Strongly encouraging individuals to wear fabric face coverings or masks in all public situations, including workplaces, at parks and during essential trips to the grocery store or doctor’s office. Exceptions to this recommendation would include children, people with disabilities, deaf individuals, and others recommended by their doctor not to wear a mask.
Wearing a mask is not a substitute for other physical distancing practices, please remain six feet apart from others. It is also important to take proper care of your masks, they should be washed in the same way as your other laundry. Do not touch your mask with unclean hands, do not set it down on foreign surfaces and don’t share your mask with others.
We see transmission from people who are asymptomatic all the time, so it’s important that everyone wear a mask, even if they’re feeling well. Face masks and coverings help prevent the spread of infection by blocking infectious droplets from entering into the air when a contagious person coughs, sneezes or speaks.
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, because of that the time it takes to go through the testing process has increased so please be patient.
At this time, any essential workers, and anyone over the age of seven who feels they need to be tested can come get tested. Public Health encouraging people who fall into the follow categories to get tested: Those who are essential workers, anyone with any COVID-19 symptoms, whose physician recommended they be tested, or who lives or works in a congregate setting. Pregnant women as well as anyone who is a close contact or has a known exposure to COVID-19.
The site runs 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. There have been over 2,200 tests so far with 75 positive results as of May 15.
Questions and Answers
Are you encouraging the Governor to move into phase 2? If he does not move into phase 2 on June 1st will you apply any pressure to the state?
Yes, the Skagit County Commissioners and all county city mayors are communicating with the Governors; office. We have asked to reopen as soon as possible, balanced with covid-19 health measures, by following public health safety. No matter the date we will continue this dialogue until we have our businesses reopened.
During these unpresented times, the city of Anacortes has responded to a combined public health, and economic crisis. We along with our business owners, and health care providers, have adapted to new realities. While individuals in our community have been under extreme stress, we have been involved in constant communication, and partnerships to respond to COVID-19. The communication and partnership we have built, are setting us up for the strongest possible economic recovery and strengthening our communities’ longterm health.
At the city we have worked to be the voice of unity in these emotional and volatile times we are talking and working daily as our local businesses and health care community to interpret the latest rules. We have focused on health, mental health, and making sure that all citizens have access to resources, like food and shelter. We have led by example, wearing a mask to emphasize the relationship between wearing a mask and achieving a full economic recovery.
Canceling local events has been one of the toughest parts of the job, and we have been creative, and are finding new ways to celebrate like: working with the high school and the class of 2020 to celebrate, a parade of closed vehicles starting at the high school on June 17, a virtual town photo for the 4th of July, because it is one of our proudest traditions, fireworks in the fall or on New Year’s Eve.
We are still anacortes and we have much to celebrate. We are providing open spaces for people to get outdoors, our farmers market is being done in a safe way, our forest lands and trails remain open, and our planning department is working with restaurant to provide outdoor seating all summer long throughout the city.
We have focused on education not enforcement in these COVID-19 times. Reminding citizens not to gather in large groups at our lakes and our parks. We have learned to Zoom, and use social media in a more robust way as we communicate with all of our partners on a daily basis. I personally communicate weekly with the hospital, the school district, the pool, county commissioners, all city mayors, city council, health departments, chamber of commerce, and our state legislators. Our daily challenge is to balance our health and our economic health, and staying the course.
We know we are all fatigued and we must remember every day to be patient and kind, teach, and understand. We are doing and amazing job in Anacortes. We have done so much to slow and flatten the curve of COVID-19, and we will be opening our community very soon to phase 2.
In closing today, I want to remember all those who have died in our nation’s service. We will celebrate Memorial Day this coming Monday the 25th of May. Please take a moment on Monday to pause and think about our country, put a flag in your yard, or visit your loved ones in the cemetery. We will not have a community celebration but we can all remember and honor those who gave their lives in defense of our country, the ultimate sacrifice. So, I ask you each, to continue to do your part and we will prevail.