Based on a current surge in the COVID-19 cases the Skagit County Public Health Department has directed the City of Anacortes to cancel the Open Streets event scheduled for Friday July 17 and Saturday July 18.
Good afternoon and welcome to my July 15 Briefing on COVID-19 in our community. We at the City are working hard every day behind the scenes to assist this community throughout this public health crisis. We have all been adapting to the changing circumstances and it is important to recognize and prepare for the long haul. We are in phase 2 now, and depending on how well we as a community follow masking and social distancing guidelines we may be in phase 3 soon but it is unlikely that we will get to phase 4, and return to life with no restrictions in the near future.
These challenging times continue to test us and we have shown ourselves to be resilient and resourceful in finding ways to navigate our economic recovery. We are closely monitoring the metrics set by the State and we are working within the bounds of that guidance to find ways to support our small businesses and create opportunities for people to once again safely visit their favorite store or eat from their favorite restaurant. We are finding adaptive ways to open our community which allow for physical distancing, and maintains the safety of our small business employees and for their customers.
I am continuously heartened by the compassion I see and the community members leaning into these issues to work towards solutions. I am in dialogue with business owners, community members, and concerned citizens about how we can best navigate this difficult situation together, with public health and safety always at the forefront of my mind.
With public safety at the top of my mind I must remind everyone that we are still in phase 2, and that means that it is not safe to travel outside the immediate community. Phase 2 allows for travel related to essential activities and Phase 1 and 2 permissible activities but still strongly encourages that you stay close to home and in your immediate area. The County continues to see many cases over the last few weeks related to people traveling out of county and out of State. We must be prepared for a long recovery period and remind ourselves that we are still in a pandemic.
Masks are Mandatory
There is a total of 627 cases, 62 hospitalizations and 17 deaths in Skagit County.
We are seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases. It is time to remain vigilant. Community Spread is happening in our county. Masks are now mandatory - you must wear a mask whenever you are with people from outside your immediate household. That means if you are visiting in a family member’s backyard – wear a mask. If you are you dropping some groceries off for a neighbor, you need to wear a mask. Are you going to dinner at a friend’s house or babysitting you nephew? You still need to wear a mask.
I know that this has been an uncomfortable transition for all of us and I want to be clear: this is a requirement that we are all still getting used to and it is important to continuously reinforce and educate ourselves, and those we come into contact with. We all need to wear a mask.
This is something many of us never have done before. But now, we all recognize what an important tool it is in protecting our community’s health. Face coverings prevent us from unknowingly spreading the virus to others while we talk or when we cough and sneeze. Masks are effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19, especially when combined with 6 feet of physical distance.
When are Masks Required?
There are three face covering orders in place: The governor’s Safe Start order and the Department of Labor & Industries require employers to provide at no cost appropriate face coverings or masks that must be worn by all employees who don’t work alone. The Secretary of Health has ordered all individuals to wear a face covering in any indoor public setting or when outdoors and unable to maintain 6 feet of physical distance from others, and the governor’s statewide order has directed businesses to require and enforce the use of face coverings by all customers.
Face coverings can be unsafe for some people with certain health or medical issues. Those individuals are exempted from the requirement. No one is required to provide proof or documentation about their health or medical status except employers who may request medical documentation if an accommodation is requested by an employee. Children under of the age of 2 should not wear a face covering.
Best Practices for Business Owners
The governor’s statewide order which directs businesses to require and enforce the use of face coverings by all customers or clients can be challenging to navigate. These new rules and requirements come with some best practices from the state: If a customer or visitor is not wearing a face covering, an employee should politely educate the customer or visitor about the public health requirement to wear a mask or face covering. Businesses may supply a disposable mask to customers. If someone is unable to wear a face covering, businesses are encouraged to offer some kind of accommodation for the customer - like curbside pickup, or delivery.
If a customer refuses to wear a face covering and does not have a medical condition or disability that prevents them from wearing a mask, they cannot be served by that business.
Please show compassion and understand the difficult times our local businesses are going through. Businesses that are reported for violating this order can be fined $10,000 or more. Please wear a mask, out of compassion for your community and respect for your local business establishments. We are all in this together.
Phase 3 Metrics
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 73.5 new cases per 100,000 residents, which has increased since my report last week.
- A county must have greater than 50 individuals tested per each new case during the prior week. We currently have 34.2 tests per each new case.
- The percentage of individuals testing positive must be less than 2%. We are currently at 2.9 %.
- The percentage of beds occupied in a county must me less than 80%. We are currently at 73%
- Lastly, the percentage of those beds occupied by COVID-19 cases must be less than 10%. We are currently at 3.3%.
We are still currently meeting 2 of the 5 metrics set by the state. Under our current phase many businesses reopened with restrictions. We are able to gather with five or fewer people who are not part of their immediate household per week, but any gatherings of more than five are prohibited. If you are part of a high-risk group it is still recommended that you continue to stay home as much as possible.
We are experiencing rising cases in our community and the state has made it clear that this is an evolving situation. The Governor announced yesterday that he will continue the pause of the Safe Start plan until July 28 at lease, so no county can move to phase 4. Some counties are facing going back to a previous phases. The increase in our cases in the County are contributed to the July 4th weekend, with in and out to county travel, large gatherings, and close contact with close friends and extended family.
City Facilities: Phase 3
When this all began, the City worked hard to ensure that services would continue remotely and that residents could reach us with any questions about how to navigate these new processes. As we look ahead to phase three, many of our services that have been virtual since March will began to welcome in-person visitors for service.
We hope to open in phase 3 in August or September, 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. During phase 3, working remotely is still highly encouraged by the Governor’s office and a full return to in-person services will be in phase 4. I will continue to keep you informed about these changes through my community briefings.
Local Fiscal Impact
The City is developing an application so that those who have experienced financial hardships relating to COVID-19 can apply for a payment plan to assist in the repayment of their utility bills. We want to work with you during this time so if you need assistance paying your utility bill balance please visit our City Utility Billing page or call us for more information.
Sales tax is one of the City’s largest and most important revenue streams, our community, like many of those around the country were bracing for a 50% decrease in sales tax revenue. This would have a substantial impact on the City’s budget. That is why we have been very closely monitoring the Sales tax revenue to understand how we can best prepare for this revenue shortfall. Thankfully, the sales tax revenues the past 3 months has been better than projected. Our May sales tax was down 21%, June was down 26%, and preliminary July Sales tax information show sales tax down 12%.
While it is hard to say revenue decreases of over 20% is good news, we can say that due to conservative budgeting and good stewardship of City funds our City’s year to date sales tax revenues are down less than 10% compared to year to date budget. This is a tribute to the strong leadership taken by our Department Heads and we will continue to be prudent with City finances, and adhere to the spending restrictions enacted in March.
During a typical year, we would be starting the biennial budget process. We gather data, make revenue projections, and look at staffing and equipment needs for the coming year. Based on the new circumstances, I am beginning discussions with the Finance Director and Finance Committee to evaluate returning to an annual budget for 2021. We will be discussing this at our next council meeting, on July 27.
Things have changed, COVID-19 has changed the way we plan, and created a lot of uncertainty. The City strives to be dynamic in navigating the economic crisis brought on by COVID-19. One way we can be responsive to the continuously changing nature of this pandemic is by creating a yearly budget.
Planning, Community and Economic Development
The City Council and I had hoped to create an open street and plaza area in our Central Business District, Open Streets this coming weekend where Commercial Avenue would have been closed to vehicle traffic allow for our shops and restaurants to reach out to the streets.
This type of event for economic recovery will have to wait until we are safely into phase 3.
Then this will allow us all to safely shop, visit and dine in a way that allows for greater physical distancing. Please bring your masks and venture downtown for some local flavors and enjoy this unique shopping experience!
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 will allow for an open air experience of the Commercial Avenue streetscape in the Central Business District.
We have been seeing people taking advantage of our outdoor spaces more in recent weeks. We encourage people to get outdoors and use our parks and trails – please remember to recreate responsibly. That means that for all the Park department amenities that are open, there is still a requirement for strict social distancing and per the Governor’s orders, masks are mandatory in outdoor public area, including public parks, trails, streets, sidewalks and other recreational areas when 6ft of distance cannot be maintained.
At the end of June, Sally Hill retired as Director of the Anacortes Senior Center. We are so thankful for her assistance though this transition and our Parks Department is working hard to continue to plan what a phase 4 reopening of the Center may look like.
Recently we also said goodbye to a 15 year employee of the City, Heather Brennan. She retired on July 6.
Our Meals on Wheels program has been seeing a steady increase in clients and have been serving close to 1500 meals monthly. This important service continues uninterrupted during these difficult times.
Anacortes Public Library
Our library has been getting book orders ready for you as fast as you can place them! New books are starting to come in as well. This year, Summer Reading, as with everything else is different, but our library staff still has lots of fun planned for you. If you haven't signed up for summer reading yet, it's not too late, and for those younger readers that have been reading all summer, Half Way Prizes start Monday. Stop by the library during curbside hours to claim your own prize so you can create your very own story and adventure with an activity provided by the library.
Tune into Pajama Storytime tomorrow night, and next week join Anacortes High School librarian Dana John for a very special Tuesday Tale. In case you did not know, every student in the Anacortes School District is entitled to a Student Library Card, so if you don't have one, or perhaps lost it, make sure to contact them so they can get you one.
Anacortes School District
Schools will look different next fall, in Anacortes, the district is engaging students, staff, and families with options. They are working hand in hand with district leaders, employee bargaining groups, community stakeholders, school board members, families, and students to develop a hybrid model that will prioritize in-person learning for early learners, but a full-time K-12 remote option will be available.
A Community Stakeholder group is also meeting regularly to set guiding principles, and review decisions with an equity frame. This community stakeholder group includes myself, and other representatives from the City, Port, Skagit County Health Department, Island Hospital, Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, Anacortes Schools Foundation, Samish Tribe, as well as parents and students.
The District is committed to ensuring that school’s maintain a six-foot social distance during extended periods, teach and practice healthy hygiene, require face coverings for all students, staff, and visitors, intensify cleaning and disinfection procedures, and screen all students, staff, and visitors for symptoms and exposure.
Canada and the United States agreed to shut the border down on March 21, allowing trade and most business travel to continue while prohibiting recreational and non-essential trips. The two countries are working on ways to successfully incorporate public health concerns with security and efficiency. As the crossing restrictions continue into mid-summer, border communities are seeing the economic effects of the decrease in travel.
Many ferry services have limited, restricted, or suspended services, citing the ongoing restrictions and Canada’s mandatory 14-day quarantine period for travelers arriving from abroad. The restrictions for crossing the border have been extended three times in 30-day increments, with the latest expiration date of July 21. We expect this to be extended again.
Skagit County Small Business Grant Applications are now open
With Federal CARES money, Skagit County was able to set aside $1 million in grant funds to support small businesses impacted by COVID-19. The grant funds available are for up to $25,000 depending on number of employees. Applications are being accepted now through 5 p.m. July 26.
The program is intended for businesses located in Skagit County with 25 or fewer employees. This program is administered by the Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County on behalf of Skagit County. This is yet another opportunity for small businesses to receive funds to assist during this time of uncertainty.
By the Numbers
Island Hospital has tested a total of 2,574 people with a total of 42 positive cases, 8 positive hospitalized cases, and there have been no deaths. Island Hospital continues to be an important partner in the community in working to beat COVID-19.
The testing site at Skagit Valley College has been going strong, reaching a new record high testing 597 people on July 13th. The County continues to receive questions about if they think they should be tested. If you are worried you have been exposed to COVID-19, you should immediately quarantine. After waiting 5-7 days, you can come and get tested Monday –Friday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. So far there have been 13,000 tests administered with 244 coming back positive.
Globally we have nearly 13 million cases and over 570,000 people have died. In the United States we are reaching nearly 3.4 million cases and over 135,000 deaths. In Washington State we currently have nearly 42,000 cases and 1,399 people have lost their lives. The truth is that these numbers are continuing to rise across the world, and here at home. We cannot let down our guard, it is time for us to reestablish our commitment to defeating this virus and to protecting the people we care about most.
Questions and Answers
- Do I have to wear a mask at a park?
Per the Governor’s orders, masks are mandatory in all outdoor public area, including public parks, trails, streets, sidewalks and other recreational areas when 6ft of distance cannot be maintained. That means if you are meeting a friend at the park you will need to wear a mask when you are with them. Or if the park has several people walking around and visiting you will need to wear a mask.
This morning, as I was briefed by the Skagit County Health Department along with the County Commissioners and other county mayors. It became a disheartening meeting as the health department reported that COVID-19 cases had jumped from 54.9 case per 100,000 to 73.5 case per 100,000 overnight. The reality of this means recommitting to safe practices, this became imperative in my mind.
We had worked so hard to get to phase 2 and then over the last three weeks we lightened our resolve and during the 4th of July holiday many people traveled in and out of the county or state, attended large gatherings, and had close contact with friends or extended family. Our cases have increased.
COVID is virus and we must prevail, this is nothing like we have experienced in our lifetime. It is challenging us in ways we could have never imagined. The emotional, economical, and physical strain is disorienting as we deal with the uncertainty. At no time in the last century have we all had to transition simultaneously in our community, state, nation, and world with a challenge we never expected.
We have been brought closer together by these destabilizing events, we have had to stay home, and connect in new ways. Our long established habits and routines have had to change dramatically but through all of this transition we have seen kindness, and creativity. Our community has responded to this pandemic by caring for each other and by finding ways to support people we may have only seen in passing, but now we share with them something uniting – a desire for a safe and healthy community.
We are all going through different things but collectively, this transition has presented us all with opportunities to reexamine and rebalance our lives. We are all in this for the long haul but I believe that one day when a tinge of normalcy appears, and we arrive at phase 4 we will be so much stronger together. We are ready to face whatever challenges are ahead because we are Anacortes.