I am incredibly proud of how our business owners, health care providers, and the employees of the City have adapted to this new reality.
Good afternoon and welcome to the May 27 Mayor’s Briefing on how COVID-19 is effecting our community. This week we will hear from the Governor on what the next steps will look like for our State, and our County. I am incredibly proud of how our business owners, health care providers, and the employees of the City have adapted to this new reality. We are closely monitoring this crisis and are involved in constant communication, and partnerships with local stakeholders to support and respond to the combined public health, and economic crisis.
We are fatigued, but this is a resilient community. We live in an amazing place with people who care, we have much to celebrate and to be grateful for. We are fortunate to have open spaces for people to get outdoors at our parks and on our trails, we have many businesses doing delivery and restaurants providing warm meals to go, and so much more. This unpresented situation continues to be fluid and we are all learning as we go and I am proud of how we have adapted.
Through communication and partnership we have built with our local public health officials and Island Hospital we are learning the best ways to strengthen our community’s long term health. We have focused on community health, mental health, and making sure that all citizens have access to resources, like food, shelter, and medical care. We have an outstanding health care community in Skagit County has implemented contact tracing and rapid self-swab testing quickly to help support us as we navigate reopening our economy.
Safe Start Washington
We are working our way through phase 1 of the Governor’s recovery plan. We have stayed the course these last few months and we are starting to look at how to open up our economy and regain a sense of normalcy and recovery in the long term.
Safe Start Phase 1
We have been in phase 1 since May 5th, during this time, businesses have been creative in finding ways to connect through delivery, online ordering systems, and they have also been extremely generous to out front line staff and workers. We have all done our part to stay connected in this time by building new partnerships and strengthening connections between business, the community, and the city.
The City’s Planning Department is working with downtown merchants and restaurants, on ideas to help assist their economic recovery and offer our residents a way to reconnect again when it is safe to do so. We are looking at ways to expand services on sidewalk, creating a town plaza feel to our commercial district.
Phase 2 Variances
Many of us have heard the Governor allowing certain Counties to move into Phase 2. The Department of Health has set standards allowing for variances in the safe start recovery plan. The variance will allow some Counties businesses to move to phase 2 before the entire state.
The application for a variance requires support from the local health officer, the local board of health, local hospitals, and the county commissioners. In the application the county must demonstrate they have capacity at local hospitals, and adequate PPE supplies to keep health care workers safe. The application must include plans for making testing available and accessible to everyone in the county with symptoms, staffing contract tracing programs, providing housing for people in isolation or quarantine who cannot at home, case management services, and the ability to respond rapidly to outbreaks.
Many Counties in the state are eligible to apply. To be eligible for this variance and move into phase 2, the state requires that a county must have an average of less than 10 new cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period.
At this time these numbers do not allow Skagit County to apply for a variance to move into phase 2. In four letters sent last week to Inslee, the county Board of Health, the county's unified command, myself and seven other mayors in the county and first responders in the county, asked the Governor to allow an exception for Skagit County to move into Phase 2, this request was denied however, the County intends to resubmit this request Friday May 29. So far 21 of our 39 counties have received this variance.
The request to the Governor is based on our local health department’s data, confidence in our health care infrastructure, commitment to physical distancing and our concern for the impacts on our economy. The unemployment rate in our state as of April is at 15.4%, from 5.1% in March, this significant, sudden and devastating effect on our economy has hit us hard. Out of the state’s 39 counties Skagit ranks 6th in first time unemployment claims. Through this crisis our health care systems and teams across the county have proven themselves to be resilient and unwavering in their ability to care of each and every person who was in need of care.
Skagit County has been at the forefront of implementing social distancing recommendations, employing contract tracing, and setting up rapid testing. The Governor’s current order expires May 31 and we expect to receive an update this week on what the state as a whole will be doing.
By the numbers
Island Hospital has tested – 965 people and currently reports – 29 positive cases. The total positive hospitalized cases is 7 and there have been no deaths. Countywide there are a total of 426 cases and 15 deaths and 50 hospitalized cases. Throughout the state we are seeing between 75-100 new cases a day, whereas two weeks ago we were seeing over 200 new cases per day. The curve is flattening.
Our community leaders, elected officials and public health workers supports the request for our County to move to phase 2 because of confidence in our robust contact racing and testing and the report by local epidemiologists citing lower positive percentage testing rates than the State is reporting. Our County was one of the first to issues physical distancing recommendations and has been preparing to track and control any outbreak or surges in cases in the county. The County has investigated every case and traced every close contact by doing case interviews, contact tracing, quarantine letters, referrals for testing, isolation facilitates at motels and more.
Our county has robust public health infrastructure that has been in place since long before COVID-19. We want our residents to know and trust that our health care system is prepared. We continue to formulate our decisions based upon science and data and we believe this cautious and watchful approach has carried us through the adverse stages of the early outbreak, and into a more stable and secure place where it is safe to move into phase 2. If we continue to see no fewer than 10 new cases through tomorrow, Skagit County will be eligible to apply to enter Phase 2 and as a County we are prepared to do so.
Skagit County has now been operating this high volume drive thru testing site since late April. This rapid testing site has been testing primarily symptomatic people, exposed people, and anyone recommended to be tested. The testing continues to be available in the parking lot of Skagit Valley College. This is a critical system in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in our County and they continue to work tirelessly so that now anyone who wants to be tested can now be tested anytime between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
There have been over 2,960 total tests conducted with 77 total positive tests as of May 22. As we look at how are health care system can take on this pandemic we have the following goals Testing, Antibody Testing, Treatment, Vaccine. We are now at the point where we have a robust and effective rapid testing system however ultimately, we will not have a solution to this crisis in full until we have a vaccine.
The level of closure that we are experiencing now through the Governor’s Stay Home order was necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19. Now, as we navigate the new reality we have to think about how to move forward, a vaccine may not be ready for 12-18 months. What does our economy do during that time? Our businesses, and institutions are a part of this community and want to see this community healthy and safe. We are closely monitoring the Governor’s guidelines for reopening and are ready to provide services in new ways that facilitate physical distancing and in ways that will not place a burden on our health care system, which stands ready and able to care for the community as it has been doing throughout this crisis.
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. Some of these industries are able to operate in limited capacity in some form or another in phase 1, doing remote work, socially distanced work and essential work. This new guidance being released by the Governor’s office outlines how this industries will be able to eventually open up for in-person services once again, and have people return to work.
For phase 2 all construction activities have been authorized to proceed, professional photography services, the pet grooming industry, and personal services including cosmetologists, hairstylists, and others. Real Estate activities are allowed to resume including sales, and mortgage lending, up to three people can participate in in-person activities.
Once we enter Phase 2, Fitness and training activities can resume. These activities must be limited to groups of at most five trainees or less plus a single instructor. Professional services such as accountants, attorneys, architects, and other office-based occupations can return. Certain outdoor activities in small groups, as well as limited non-essential travel is also allowable.
Traditional dine-in restaurants, and public houses, will open at less than 50% capacity, with table sizes of less than 5, and no bar seating. Please closely follow the new protocols and procedures being issued by the Governor to assure we get back to business safely.
Safe Start Phase 3
Phase 3 is when we will have a partial reopening of our in-person city services. This partial reopening will be for the Anacortes Library, Museum, and City Hall. Our facilities staff continue to work early mornings and late evenings to disinfect all our city facilities before essential staff arrive are in the process of working on installing Plexiglas shields at public facing counters area.
When Phase 3 begins Washingtonians will be able to fully resume non-essential travel and nearly all other business activities will resume.
Safe Start Phase 4
Phase 4 is a full return to public interactions, when we get to phase 4 physical distancing will not go away. I know that this situation has been extremely difficult, we look forward to seeing our friends, family, and fellow Anacortes residents again soon. We anticipate that phase 4 will start in mid to late summer.
The City has responded to this crisis by maintaining essential services and keeping you informed. We have been working on thinking creatively about building resiliency so we can be prepared to respond to any crisis. Our City employees are the cornerstone behind our essential services, while many of our facilities remain closed such as the Library, the Senior Center, the Museum, and City Hall we are working on ways to reach you virtually and prepare for our return to in person city services.
There have been many unexpected outcomes that we as a City and community have experienced. Some have been devastating such as job loss, and unemployment fraud. The Anacortes Police Department has received several reports of fraudulent unemployment claims from local residents who are still working. If you are a victim, please visit the Washington State Employment Security Department's website to file a claim and closely monitor your accounts for other fraudulent activity.
Not all of our unexpected outcomes have been bad, our businesses have found efficiencies in working remotely, the City has adopted more technology though remote meeting and have learned to use technology to find new ways to connect with residents. We have seen generosity and a community coming together to support one another, and we have seen families getting to spend more time together. This is Anacortes and we are proud to keep working hard to assure that our essential services continue uninterrupted.
The library is has been working to bring new stories and educational opportunities right to your computer or phone every week and this week is no exception. This week's Together We Discover video tonight at 7pm gives us a glimpse into one of our local artist studios. Join artist Terry MacDonald to find out how to get started with acrylic painting.
The library continues to partner with community members to give you glimpses into hobbies and businesses while we're apart, and we look forward to many more in the coming months. As soon as we are safely re-open our book drops, we will do so. We will update you as we move towards phase 3.
Next week, the library has even invited me to read a book with you all next Tuesday at 6pm on the library Facebook page. Find a link to the video on the library website next week. I look forward to reading with you!
The Parks Department has been thinking about how our services will change when we move into Phase 2. We are preparing to reopen some of our park amenities while reminding our residents and visitors that physical distancing is necessary even as we begin to reopen some activities.
Parks: Phase 2
In phase 2 Washington Park Campground will reopen. The campground will go to a reservation only system to keep 1/3 of the sites closed to promote social distancing. Pickleball and Tennis Courts will reopen with a limit of 4 per court, and Basketball courts will reopen with a limit of 4 per court. Once we reach Phase 2, Parks and Recreation staff will evaluate park usage to see what other amenities may be opened while keeping in line with the State’s Phased Approach.
Local Fiscal Impact
We have started to receive information about on how the Stay Home order and business closures due to COVID-19 will effect revenue the City receives. Two of the major governmental revenues, Property Tax and Utility Tax, do not seem to be significantly impacted at this point, and align closely with budgeted expectations.
Water consumption through April continued on a downward trend in the Commercial sector, down 7.5% from March consumption. In 2019 during the same timeframe we saw a 7.6% increase in Commercial consumption. Multifamily water consumption is up 17% compared to 2% a year ago and Residential water consumption is up 30% respectively, compared to 6% a year ago.
The sales tax receipts for May are generated from March retail sales, and those revenues show a 37% shortfall. We also saw a significant decrease in lodging tax, which is received from hotel, motel, and vacation rental stays, was down 71% compared to May of 2019. We are continuing to closely monitor this information as it becomes available.
Nationwide Retail Sales Decline in April
We are seeing the effects or retail sale declines in several areas. The economic impacts of COVID-19 are far reaching. Many in our community have been left without a job and many business owners are anxiously awaiting the opportunity to safely reopen. This is happening in all communities in our county, and our state.
Communities everywhere like ours are preparing for the long term economic impacts of this public health crisis. The City Council and I are closely monitoring this financial information and are working hard support our local businesses and the community.
Planning, Community and Economic Development
This last week we issued 19 building permits including 5 Single Family Residential permits. We did 37 inspections this week and we had an uptick in phone calls totaling 115. We can tell that our community is ready to get back to work and we are here to help make that happen.
Small Business Stabilization Grants
This week is the last week for applications to the Small Business Stabilization Grant. This is 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. We have received 27 applications so far and will be reviewing them the week of June 2nd with the committee of Anacortes Business representatives.
Washington State Ferry
The Washington State Ferry system is reminding us that while we are in phase 1 customers are advised to limit travel on ferries to essential purposes only, and to observe social distancing by remaining in their vehicles whenever possible. Those who must travel on ferries are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings to help promote the health and safety of themselves and our frontline employees. On some sailings, the number of walk-on passengers may be restricted so that riders can maintain physical distance.
It is time to start thinking about how you personally will navigate these phases as well. While many businesses are closely monitoring these guidelines it is important to think about how you personally will navigate these changes. There are personal decisions we have to make, we have all been living more or less in total isolation leaving only when absolutely necessary, staying indoors, always wearing a mask, etc.
The next phase will bring about a change, you may go to the dentist, have short conversations from 6ft away with friends you have not seen in many months, and some may return to the workplace. We will eventually start to go out and resume having dinner with friends, attend our religious services, volunteer, go to the salon, and go shopping. With each of these stages and additional actions we will increase our chances of becoming ill, we need to judge for ourselves what we are comfortable with and what is safe to do.
As we think about what things might look like as we move to phase 2 and beyond I encourage people to consider, what their summer may look like. The stay home order will eventually end I however, I encourage people to stay here at home. Once the restrictions lift consider having your summer in Anacortes, do a stay-cation. Experience, Skagit County. We always have so many wonderful visitors and people come to our area and with the decrease in tourism it may be the perfect time to experience Washington. It is time to start thinking ahead and imagining what we might be able to do this summer, but as the restrictions lift you will be able to barbeque with friends, or enjoy a comping trip with your family. Enjoy the beauty of the northwest, normally we share with worldwide visitors - this summer it is ours to explore.
Skagit Transit Food Drive
Skagit Transit presents the Stuff the Bus Food Drive in partnership with Safeway! This Friday May 29 from 12 p.m. – 5 p.m. at the Anacortes Safeway store front we challenge Anacortes residents to see how full we can fill a bus with non-perishable foods. This is a great opportunity to give what you can for those who are having a difficult time making ends meet and who need support. We want to be sure that in this time of uncertainty that all those in our community feel secure in their ability to get food for themselves and their families. The Salvation Army food bank will receive the proceeds of this food drive.
Slowing the Spread
I want to give everyone a reminder that wearing a mask is not a substitute for other physical distancing practices. Please remain six feet apart from others. As we navigate a way forward for our community we have to acknowledge the gravity and devastation of COVID-19. There are nearly 1.7 million cases currently in the United States, and 1,070 people have died in just Washington state. Globally there are 5.5 million cases, the total deaths worldwide near 350 thousand. This number is staggering and it is a reminder to us all why we have been staying home and why we should continue to wear masks.
Questions and Answers
- When will the public access computers at the senior center and the library be open?
The library staff look forward to when they can start a partial reopening of our beautiful facility. Public Libraries are part of Phase 3 of the Governor’s Safe Start plan. We anticipate that we will be able to include some public access computers at that time, as long as we can do it safely to protect patrons and staff. If you have your own device, the library’s broadband wireless is available around the building from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm.
At the senior Center Phase 4 allows for resuming public interactions for high-risk populations with physical distancing, so we will not see computer access at the Senior Center until after we reach phase 4. We are discussing ideas and making plans to improve outreach during phases 2 and 3 including an increase in virtual programming, possible outdoor activities and increased contact through email and phone calling.
- We have had as influx of out of towners, is anything being done to encourage these people to respect social distancing and wearing masks?
We are continuing to encourage the guidance that whenever you leave the home for an essential trip to the grocery store, the pharmacy, or even to go out on a walk in town you should wear a mask. This is the guidance nationwide and so even those who are not from the area should be aware of the need to socially distance. It is important that everyone in our community, and across the country wear a mask to slow the spread of COVID-19.
- When we hear that there are so many cases testing positive, where did these appear? Was it the result of eating together or at an assisted living place?
Island Hospital and Skagit County Public health are updating the City on the current numbers in our area, the County does a breakdown by zip code and Island Hospital keeps track of their hospitals testing numbers and positive cases. Due to privacy laws and HIPPA laws which protect patient’s personal information we do not have public information on the level that specific. Our Skagit County Health Department continues to do contact tracing at that level and uses that information to find people who may have been exposed to get them tested, isolated, and recommend quarantine if appropriate.
- During this pandemic, have you seen an increased need to bring in a large department store and are we missing out on tax dollars because of this?
Not at this time, though maybe in the future if that is something the community is interested in. I am not able to answer the question regarding tax dollars because do not have a basis to project hypothetical tax revenue for a large retail store, there is not enough information to give an accurate a projection. However, our local essential businesses have done an exceptional job supporting our residents and families with the supplies they need to stay home during this crisis.
- Is Anacortes is considering getting a large department store, if so do you have a locations that might work? What is the City doing to attract this type of business?
Large retail stores up to 50,000 sf are permitted by the development regulations
Through the community discussion during the update of the City’s Comprehensive Plan the possibility of new retail options was brought up. The City Council Planning committee did an in-depth analysis and ultimately the City Council made the decision that large retail alternatives were not preferred because they would produce noticeable environmental impact, be inconsistent with the design standards of the community, increase public safety costs and risk, and well as have an adverse effect on existing retail.
The City’s current policy is to encourage the development of small specialty retailers that provide goods not currently available to the community. The most recent development regulations update limits the maximum size of any one retail use.
- From the material I have read the City’s urban growth plan is to allow more vertical growth and at the same time allow less room for cars. Has anything been done on the urban growth plan since the pandemic. Have people’s comments been evaluated and responded to?
No action has been taken relating to the City’s growth since the Pandemic. We are still working on concerns regarding height in the R4 Zone, though, the Governors order has put much of this work on hold. The City’s growth plan includes modest residential infill opportunities to facilitate more opportunities for people to live downtown and nearby. When people are able to live in pedestrian friendly neighborhoods near where they work, shop, dine and recreate, it can help reduce reliance on cars which has an environmental, economic and social benefit for us all.
Today, we sit in this awkward agonizing waiting time. Time for it to be over, time to move to phase two. Out of patience, out of money, but overall we have maintained our health. I yearn for normalcy and I also know the world has changed through this pandemic. I chose to focus on the good that has come out of this. The kindness and generosity of Anacortes as we have taken care of each other.
All of us gathering around the class of 2020, and celebrating their accomplishments. The generosity of community members to create and financially support and hang the class of 2020 banners on Commercial Avenue.
I also want you to know, at the City. we have not only continued to maintain essential services, we have found creative ways to continue the work for our citizens. We telework and have formed new partnerships with our business community and health providers. We are focused on creating a vibrant commercial district assisting all businesses to be successful as we move through the phases. We have worked to maintain our parks, farmers market, and we will be hanging flower baskets this Friday on Commercial Avenue. We have worked with the Chamber the Banks, the SBA, and our state and federal legislative partners to find sources of revenue to help you businesses.
Our council meeting continue every Monday night, as we take care of the essential functions of the City. We are looking forward to having the council chambers open and have community discussions and public hearings on issues, projects, and regulations that are important and required for our city.
As this pandemic has prevailed we have not lost track of what we were working on when COVID struck: street improvements, our Shoreline Master Program and Critical Regulations, New Depot Restrooms, supporting a thriving maritime industry, and our partnership and projects with the Port of Anacortes. The next phase of the Guemes Channel Trail, our Court system, Our Police, Fire and EMS services, our development regulations, high speed internet, our plan for a community recreation center with the Fidalgo Pool, Grand View Cemetery Expansion, and our continued commitment to a safe water and waste water utility.
These are just a few of the projects and issues we continue to work on every day during these unprecedented times. We are Anacortes, we will prevail, all 17,610 residents, 7 council members, and one Mayor. Thank you joining me today.