Good afternoon, welcome to my COVID-19 Briefing for July 8. I hope you all had a safe and enjoyable 4th of July.
The 4th of July has always been one of my favorite holidays and I was happy to see that many people were able to enjoy this important holiday in safe, physically distant ways. This community has done a commendable job taking care of each other and working to beat COVID-19.
These challenging few months have tested us and we have shown ourselves to be resilient and resourceful. We have never lived through anything like this but we have all adapted and been united in facing COVID-19. We knew this would not be easy, but none of us knew how difficult it would be to deal with both the public health and economic crisis at once. We have to remain committed, and continue to face this ongoing challenge together.
Masks are Mandatory
Beginning on June 26th the Washington State Health Secretary John Wiesman’s order went into effect. This order states that every person in Washington must wear a mask. This important order is a critical tool to beat COVID-19 and is an opportunity for us to unite together to protect the community.
When Masks Are Required
The requirements of the order state the every person in Washington State must wear a face covering in any indoor or outdoor space. Including any building or business open to the public in healthcare settings, in line waiting for public transit or any vehicle for hire, any outdoor public area, including public parks, trails, streets, sidewalks and other recreational areas when 6ft of distance cannot be maintained. Businesses are now required to refuse services to those who are not wearing masks.
When Can I Remove My Mask?
Individuals may remove their face coverings under the following circumstances: while they are seated at a restaurant or establishment that offers food and drinks – if you are able to maintain 6ft of separation. While you are engaged in outdoor exercise, such as walking, biking, hiking or running and are able to maintain 6ft of separation, except those who play on sports teams. When in outdoor public areas with 6ft of distance between non-household members.
You may also remove your mask if any party to a communication is deaf or hard or hearing and not wearing a face mask is essential for communication. When obtaining a service requiring temporary removal of facial covering, when necessary to confirm an individual’s identity, and when federal or state law prohibits wearing a facial covering.
Children younger than 5 are exempt from wearing facial coverings, children under 2 should never wear mask because of the safety risk. However, children older than two, three, or four years of age should wear a mask under close supervision of an adult when in grocery stores, pharmacies, or other places where social distancing may not be maintained. Persons with certain medical conditions, mental health, or disability may also be exempt.
Mask are most effective when we all wear them and that is why this order is so important. We are all united in our efforts to beat COVID-19 and we all want to see a safe and healthy community. We yearn to go back to a sense of normalcy – wearing a mask will help us get to that point. Each step we take to beat COVID-19 is backed by science, and data and will be part of the solution to this public health crisis.
Masks Alone Cannot Stop the Spread
Wearing a mask alone cannot stop COVID-19. The City has followed guidance from Governor Inslee that the City’s efforts should be aimed at educating our community on the many benefits of masks in fighting the pandemic. Rather than enforcement; our dedicated professionals in law enforcement are there to educate inform our citizenry about this new order.
We continue to remind all residents that face masks are now required whenever they are out in the public. Not only are masks required, they are the right thing to do to protect our neighbors.
We all have a part to play, we must wear a mask, practice physical distancing, good hygiene and get tested if you have symptoms. Wearing a mask is just one part of our communities coordinated efforts to beat COVID-19.
Phase 3 Metrics
While Skagit County remains in Phase 2 we have a set of standards set by the state that determines our ability to move to the next phase. The Washington State Department of Health and Governor Inslee evaluate a county’s ability to move forward based on five metrics:
- A county must have fewer than 25 new cases per 100,000 residents over 14 consecutive days. We currently have 53.4 new cases per 100,000 residents.
- A county must have greater than 50 individuals tested per each new case during the prior week. We currently have 28.8 tests per each new case.
- The percentage of individuals testing positive must be less than 2%. We currently have 3.5%.
- The percentage of beds occupied in a county must me less than 80%. We are currently at 68.4%
- Lastly, the percentage of those beds occupied by COVID-19 cases must be less than 10%. We are currently at 2.3%.
Based on the most up to date information we are only meeting 2 of the 5 standards set by the state to move to phase 3.
The Skagit County Board of Health met to give an update on Skagit’s COVID-19 response, case counts and trends and at that time the County Health Board made the decision that it will not be applying to move forward to Phase 3 until further notice. We need to remain committed to all of these categories in order continue to move through this phased approach, and here in Anacortes I believe everyone is taking this seriously will continue to social distance, stay home when sick, wash our hands, and let’s keep up the momentum.
Skagit County Health Board
Currently our entire state has paused the Safe Start plan meant to reopen the economy – no one can move to phase 4. Rising cases across the state and concerns about continued spread of the COVID-19 virus have made Phase 4, which would mean no restrictions, impossible at this time. Eight counties were eligible to move from Phase 3 to Phase 4 before the pause.
The state has made it clear that this is an evolving situation and they will continue to make decisions based on the data. We will remain in phase 2 until at least July 16 at which point the Skagit County Health Department will once again review if we are meeting the necessary metrics to apply to phase 3.
As a reminder, under Phase 2 certain non-essential businesses reopened with restrictions. People are also able to gather with five or fewer people who are not part of their immediate household per week. Any gatherings of more than five are prohibited during Phase 2 and those who belong to a high-risk group should continue to stay home as much as possible.
City Facilities: Phase 3 and 4
The Senior Center, the Museum, Library, the Municipal Court, and City Hall remain closed through phase 2 as we work to develop a plan for a Phase 3 reopening. In Phase 3 when City facilities reopen to the public they will have signs to indicate proper physical distancing, Plexiglas shields, and some new procedures for in-person services. City Hall will see a limited reopening at the Permit Counter, in the finance department and other in-person city services.
The Library and Museum will have limited in person services, we will see more reopening of Parks facilities in phase 3 as well including playgrounds and games may begin on the ball fields. Anacortes Municipal Court and the lobby of the Anacortes Police Department will also open in phase 3. The Anacortes Senior Activities Center will reopen in phase 4.
We will keep you informed about these changes as we move into phase 3 through my community briefings, on our website, posting signs at city hall, and via our social media.
Local Fiscal Impact
We understand that some residents are having financial difficulties paying your City Utility Bill due to COVID-19. We will be offering payment plans soon and encourage you to continue to check out Utility Billing webpage for information. Right now, there are organizations that are prepared to assist you right now with financial help. If you are worried about making Utility Bill payments utilize these community resources: the Salvation Army, Washington 211 or Community Action, or the Local Churches.
Our Finance Department has begun working with other departments to update the Capital Facilities Plan, to identify the next 6 years capital needs. The Capital Facilities Plan amendment is out for public notice, which, along with another budget amendment, are scheduled for Council on July 20th.
We will also be reviewing and preparing for the implementation of the Affordable Housing Sales Tax that just went into effect July 1st. We continue to operate under a great deal of uncertainty and we are being proactive and fiscally responsible in developing our City’s next budget.
Planning, Community and Economic Development
The Planning, Community and Economic Development department is hard at work finding was to assist and partner with our local businesses such as providing over 12,000 masks to our local businesses in the coming week. The City’s Planning Commission is also excited to get back to work with virtual meetings this month starting this evening at 6pm. You can watch it right here on channel 10.
Additionally, Resolution 2094 proposes adoption of guidance to allow restaurants and retailers expanded use of the sidewalks and Commercial Avenue during periods when the street is closed to vehicles, potentially Friday 5:00 pm through Saturday 10:00 pm to stimulate the economic recovery in our community. Closing the street and broader use of the sidewalks allows for more area for physical distancing, additional retail area, and more dining area while meeting safety and health guidelines. This along with the Parklets and Streateries arriving in August, will allow for an open air experience of the Commercial Avenue streetscape in the Central Business District.
Permit numbers are up compared to this time last year. As of right now 8 Accessory Dwelling Unit permits have been issued this year, 30 single family residential permits and 74 single family residential alteration permits. This year’s total permits issued to date are 333 up slightly from 324 last year at this time.
We are fortunate to have access to the natural beauty of Fidalgo Island and as the weather gets nicer and some restrictions have been lifted we have seen people taking advantage of our outdoor spaces. Use in our parks and trails are up with more and more people looking for ways to recreate while social distancing. This June on the Thompson Trail we have had 10,683 visitors which is an increase of approximately 16% from last year.
The Washington Park Campground is open and was completely full over this last holiday weekend. The Boat launch is also open to the public and experienced significant traffic this weekend.
Please remember that the Governor’s orders means that masks are mandatory in outdoor public area, including public parks, trails, streets, sidewalks and other recreational areas when 6ft of distance cannot be maintained.
Thank you to all who uploaded their family picture to the City of Anacortes 2020 town photo. While we celebrated differently this year, we have all shown that we can be together even when we are apart. If you take a look at our Mosaic of pictures and zoom in, you can see you family, and the families of your neighbors and friends all together on Commercial Avenue.
Library Phase 2: Curbside Service
Are you signed up for summer reading at the library yet? If not, I encourage you to watch the recent videos on the Library’s website and social media. This summer the fantasy world has gone virtual and wizards, witches, dwarfs, princesses, and more can be seen on a zoom meeting this week talking about our Anacortes Public Library Summer Reading Program.
Sign up online and start reading ebooks immediately or by picking holds up at the library's ongoing curbside delivery Monday-Friday 11-4. The library staff is available by phone during curbside to help you with account questions and reading recommendations each weekday.
Make sure to watch our Public Works Director Fred and City Attorney Darcy's scuba storytime from last night if you haven't already, and tune in next Tuesday for a story time with me!
Don’t miss this Thursday’s Storytime Adventure, full of independent princesses and library magic, and of course, see the booklists and new books the library has waiting for you to reserve and pick up.
Anacortes School District
The Anacortes School District has already begun planning for several different scenarios for schools to re-open in the fall, including in-person, online, and hybrid models. Each model will depend on guidance from state and local health officials. The district is engaged with community stakeholders in these planning efforts, and will continue to keep the community informed.
I along with other leadership at the city will be serving on the school district’s community stakeholder group as we plan for what this upcoming school year will look like. The governor indicated that in monitoring the state’s health data carefully, we must proceed with caution. If COVID-19 cases spike or spread, the school district will be prepared for several different scenarios.
Bloodworks is the regional non-profit provider of blood components to over 80 hospitals throughout our region, supplying 95% of the blood in this region. Some of the hospitals this organization supports include Island Hospital, Skagit Valley Hospital, Seattle Children’s, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, UW Medicine, and Harborview.
With COVID-19 impacting our region, Bloodworks discontinued the mobile donation program through the end of August, which accounts for 60% of the organizations collections. There is concern that the organization will be able to maintain a stable blood supply this summer and so they are going out into the community and creating Pop-Up donation centers.
Anacortes will be home to a Pop-Up Donation Center from July 14 – July 22 at Westminster Presbyterian Church in the Fellowship Hall. No walk-ins, guests, or people under age 16 are permitted and all donors are required to wear masks or face coverings during their appointment. There is no substitute for blood and Bloodworks NW relies on 1,000 donors each and every day to fulfill the need in our community.
By the numbers
Island Hospital has tested a total of 2,308 people with a total of 41 positive cases, 9 positive hospitalized cases, and there have been no deaths.
The outpouring of support from this community for Island Hospital during the coronavirus pandemic has been truly overwhelming. In addition to meals, cloth masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) donations, this community have contributed an astounding $674,084 to the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.
Because of your kindness and generosity, Island Hospital has: 8 state-of-the-art new ventilators, Tele-ICU equipment, telemedicine for specialty clinics, Cepheid machine testing cartridges for COVID-19 testing, 2-3 months of Personal Protective Equipment, and Training for redeployed nursing staff.
The County has received questions about how long someone should wait to be tested if they think they’ve been exposed to COVID-19. If you’re are worried you have been exposed to COVID-19, you should immediately quarantine. After 5-7 days, you can get tested. You do not need an appointment or a referral. COVID-19 is available at Skagit Valley College Monday –Friday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
The County is still in need of volunteers for the testing site at Skagit Valley College. Volunteers would be directing traffic, helping register people or helping testing. Shifts are available Monday through Friday, if you have questions or are interested in volunteering, contact Tina Bobbitt with the Department of Emergency Management at 360-416-1853.
Globally we have 11.5 million cases and 535,000 people have died. In the United States we are reaching nearly 3 million cases and over 130,000 deaths. In Washington State we currently have over 37,000 cases and 1,384 people have lost their lives. It is important, now more than ever, for us to come together and work towards the goal of defeating this virus so our family, neighbors, and friends can be safe.
Questions and Answers
- When can we move to phase 3?
The Governor’s Safe Start plan outlines a county-by-county approach to reopening our economy. The Skagit County Board of Health helps determine if and when we are ready to apply for phase 3. They have determined that based case count and case spread, we will not be moving into phase 3 for the time being. We need to focus on the five metrics the state has set and meeting those standards. Our County Board of health will meet on July 16 to review whether we are meeting those standards and if we are we may be able to apply for phase 3 soon after that.
Why did cases go up so much over the last week?
Currently in Skagit County we have a total of 558 cases, 442 recoveries, 60 hospitalized and 15 deaths. Skagit County Public Health confirmed today that there is an ongoing outbreak at Mira Vista Care Center in Mount Vernon, So far, 21 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed at the center. The first case was reported on June 19 and follow up testing discovered the additional cases. Fortunately, most of the cases have been asymptomatic or mild. Mira Vista has been following all CDC protocols and has implemented the State’s protocols. This is one of the main sources for the large increase in cases in our County recently.
This morning I spent time with the City Department Directors. We met virtually and talked about these uncertain times, and the challenges of COVID-19 and how to continue to deliver services and provide opportunities for public participation. We are committed to the health and safety of our citizen and our employees, this is always the compass we use when we work for this community. We also spoke of the emotional weight of this virus and the not knowing how long we will live with the virus as a threat to our physical, emotional, and economic health.
We all yearn for predictability, especially now. What we must remember during this global health crisis is to be kind to ourselves, and others. Know the uncertainty we are all feeling is real and will continue for an unknown length of time. Let’s all lean into this, and find creative solutions on how to take care of ourselves, our family, and our town.
Your City Council has taken on this challenge and is creating and open street and plaza area in our Central Business District. This will allow us all to safely shop, visit and dine. We will do a trial run Friday evening July 17th through Saturday evening July 18th. And then for the months of August and September expand on this open area for all of us to enjoy our summer.
Today I close with my thanks to each of you for your kind and generous spirit and being a truly caring community with diverse voices that all want this place we call home, to thrive.