Good afternoon and welcome to the July 27 Briefing on COVID-19. It has been four long months since the Governor issued his Stay Home, Stay Healthy order. During that time, cases in Washington have risen from 2,000 to almost 50,000, and deaths have increased from 110 to over 1,500. We are in the midst of a global pandemic and unfortunately, as cases grow we can expect to see an increase in deaths as well.
Yesterday, Governor Inslee indefinitely extended the pause of the Safe Start plan, which means no county will be moving ahead to the next phase. He explained that is it crucial to have fewer, shorter, and safer interactions outside the home to slow the spread of COVID-19.
- View Mayor Gere's video COVID-19 Briefing for July 29, 2020
At times it can be difficult to deal with the strain of this public health and economic crisis. We want to focus our efforts on recovery because our community has a hard working, entrepreneurial spirit. But the most effective thing to do right now is stay home, and mask up whenever you have to leave your house. With so many uncertainties around us we have had to adapt and find new ways to live, work, recreate, learn and socialize – and navigating these changes has not been easy.
Anacortes has been creative in solving problems and keeping focused on our shared vision of the future: a time when we can safely restart public life, and socialize with the friends, family and coworkers. We need to be intentional with our actions and focus on how to get back to normal. That is why we must remain committed to physical distancing and wearing masks whenever we leave the house. We have to do it, because it will save lives and protect our home, the place we love, Anacortes.
Changes to the Safe Start Plan
Last week the Governor announced changes to the Safe Start plan and identified targeted modifications. These changes limit exposure in restaurants, bars, fitness centers, and at weddings and funerals. These new changes also affect family entertainment centers, movie theaters, and card rooms.
For weddings and funerals, ceremonies are allowed, but receptions are prohibited. Ceremonies must have maximum indoor occupancy of 20%, or up to 30 people, whichever is less. They must have physical distancing. This new change starts on August 10.
Restaurants and Bars
Restaurant must now require parties to be members of the same household in order to dine indoors. Table size for indoor dinning in Phase 3 is reduced to five and occupancy reduced from 75% to 50%. Alcohol service inside of restaurants must end by 10pm.
Outdoor dining and take-out is still allowed for small parties from different households. Gaming areas such as pool tables, dart boards and video games are closed. Bars will be closed for indoor service, but can continue outdoor service. These changes all take effect tomorrow, July 30.
Gyms and Fitness Centers
In Phase 2, the number of individuals allowed to use fitness centers is reduced to only five individuals — not including staff. This new rule applies to gyms, fitness studios, and indoor pools, ice rinks, volleyball courts, and tennis facilities. Fitness center occupancy in Phase 3 is reduced to 25% and all group fitness classes will be limited to no more than 10, not including the instructors. The changes take effect tomorrow, July 30.
Indoor family entertainment and recreation centers — like mini golf, bowling alleys, and arcades — are prohibited from opening, as well as indoor card rooms. Indoor movie theater occupancy is also reduced from 50% to 25% in Phase 3.
Phase 3 Metrics
This month has already accounted for the largest number of COVID-19 cases and second largest related to hospitalizations in Skagit County. We are seeing hospitalizations at the level we saw them in April. Our County Public Health Officer, Dr. Leibrand is not confident that the County will approach meeting this metrics in the next two to four weeks, he says that getting to phase three is about getting this virus to a controllable level. This month we are outpacing the level of cases in April. To move to phase 3 a county must have the following:
- A county must have fewer than 25 new cases per 100,000 residents over 14 consecutive days. We currently have 106 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 31.4 tests per each new case.
- The percentage of individuals testing positive must be less than 2%. We are currently at 3.2%.
- The percentage of beds occupied in a county must me less than 80%. We are currently at 76.7%
- Lastly, the percentage of those beds occupied by COVID-19 cases must be less than 10%. We are currently at 6.5%.
We are still currently meeting 2 of the 5 metrics.
Mask Up Washington
The Statewide masking order was expanded last week to include all common spaces and private social situations. Basically, unless you have a medical condition that makes it unsafe for you to wear a mask, you should wear a mask all the time, unless you’re at home with members of your own household.
Local Fiscal Impact
On Monday night our Finance Department presented the monthly update to City Council on the effects of COVID-19 on the City’s budget. The City Council decided to go back to an annual budget and to move the budget schedule further into the fall. During this time of year we would normally be in the midst of developing a two-year budget however, due to the uncertainty of COVID-19 we have had to change the way we envision 2021.
We are starting our budget development process later to gather additional information and see how the economy will continue to react to the pandemic. We need to practice caution and conservative budgeting as the federal unemployment benefits have ended this month and unemployment rate in the County continues to be volatile, and we do not know how that may affect future sales tax revenue.
As the Council, staff and I continue our in-depth discussions on 2021 budget priorities we plan to retain the hiring freeze for non-essential positions and a freeze on purchasing neww equipment. As the budget is developed we will focus on Public Safety, community enrichment, community and economic development, essential services, natural resource sustainability, social services, and responsible government.
Supporting Local Residents
The Governor has extended his Eviction Moratorium until October 15 recognizing the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on some resident’s finances. The COVID-19 pandemic is causing a sustained economic downturn throughout Washington State and this moratorium assures that our most vulnerable populations are protected from homelessness during this crisis.
The City is working on finding more ways to support the vulnerable in our community who may be finding it difficult to make rental payments. We are currently looking at a $26,000 in Community Development Block Grant and possible federal CARES funding for low to moderate income households grants to help prevent evictions. These fund could support those at less than 80% of the area medium income. So those families with a combined income less than $62,700 may be qualified for some rental assistance.
The City coordinating with the Anacortes Family Center and the Anacortes Housing Authority to find the best way to administer these funds and reach the Anacortes residents who are in need.
The CARES Act provided a $600 weekly federal unemployment benefit that expired for most unemployed workers on July 30. We are awaiting action from the federal government on the continuation or expansion of unemployment support as the country continues to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In April we had an unemployment rate in Skagit County of 19.1%. In May, this rate fell to 16.5%. The latest unemployment percentages as of June are at 11.3% and show that people are getting back to work. It is clear that the situation is volatile and our County finds itself still dealing with a lot of uncertainty. Our economic recovery is closely aligned with our ability comply with the public safety requirements in place, so while people may be going back to work we are also starting to see cases as deaths rise. We must remain vigilant in following the guidance of our Public Health Officials.
Anacortes Parks Department
Thanks to the generous anonymous donor, the Anacortes Senior Center roof that was in dire need of replacement has been completed. With the sudden closure of the Center due to the pandemic, we had a golden opportunity to complete work on that would have otherwise taken longer to accomplish. We can’t wait to welcome all of our seniors, staff, and volunteers back to see the finished product.
The Parks Department is working on outreach at the Senior Center by continuing to reach out via phone and offer Zoom type classes as an opportunity to connect. While the Senior Center will not reopen until phase 4, the staff are working on ways to expand digital outreach to its patrons in phase 3.
Anacortes Public Library
Check out the library website to recommend a book to the resident dragon and be entered for a Harry Potter prize by July 31. You can see what the dragon is reading online and add those books to your summer reading list. Since we're missing seeing you at festivals and events this summer, the library is bringing creativity to you. Register on the kids’ page to find out about art classes via Zoom in August. For teens, sign up for drawing classes in August and look for science kits, art kits and more while we imagine our stories together. Don't forget to drop your ballots off at the ballot box on the Northside of the library by the book drops.
I am also excited to announce the confirmation of Jeff Vogel as Library Director by the City Council this last Monday night. He has served as interim Director during these COVID-19 times and we are excited to welcome him on officially as the Director of the Anacortes Public Library.
Cancellation of Events
Several months ago Dr. Leibrand issued guidance to the County to cancel large scale summer events. This Monday, the guidance was extended, the County Commissioners recommended cancelling large scale events through December 31, 2020.
This includes fairs, parades, festivals, overnight residential camps, fireworks displays and any other large group gatherings through the summer. COVID-19 spreads quickly in large groups, and with the current rise in cases the Commissioners felt the associated risk of these events is too great. We had all hoped that we would have gotten this virus under control by this point, but we are seeing the opposite. Dr. Leibrand is telling all Skagitonians that the way things are right now should set the expectation for what living with COVID-19 is going to be like for the foreseeable future.
City Council Public Comment
City council meetings will be held via zoom webinar starting on Monday August 10th. You can be an attendee and be part of our City Council meetings! We will post instructions on the City’s website and if you want to participate in the meeting please call 360-299-1960. You can provide comments multiple ways, via email, by mail, by e-comment, and now via live public comment on Zoom – you will be right there with me and the City Councilmember at the council meeting. We look forward to hearing from you.
Anacortes School District
School superintendent Justin Irish shared yesterday that the Anacortes School Board recently approved an update to the school calendar for the 2020-21 school year. The school year will now start on Monday, September 14, 2020, and end on Monday, June 21, 2021. The updated calendar is posted on the school district website. This shifted start time allows us to provide more staff training in September before school starts.
The district is continuing to build its homeschool platform and a long-term hybrid learning model for the year. That hybrid learning model will likely start off as a full remote learning option. There are a number complexities and a full in-person model will likely be phased in. Exact dates and other details continue to be finalized. We will keep you updated as Dr. Irish continues to develop the District’s plan.
By the Numbers
Island Hospital has tested a total of 3,157 people with a total of 48 positive cases, 8 positive hospitalized cases, and there have been no deaths. We have had an increase of 14 cases the last month here in Anacortes.
There have been 15,000 tests with 339 people testing positive so far. If you have been exposed to COVID-19, please quarantine and after 5-7 days, and then come and get tested Monday - Friday between 9 a.m. and 4 pm at Skagit Valley College.
The County has been experiencing high volumes of people on Mondays, topping 500 people and with wait times of 3 hours. If you are able to visit the site on another day the County is recommending you do. You do not need to get repeat tested unless you have had an exposure to COVID-19. We need to effectively use our resources. This testing infrastructure is a pivotal part of stamping out COVID-19 in our County and it is run by volunteers from our community who are committed to helping Skagit County.
Globally we have 6.6 million cases and over 658,000 people have died worldwide from COVID-19. The actual numbers are estimated to be even higher because of limited testing and minor cases going unreported. Across the country in the United States we have seen 4.3 million cases and there have been over 150,000 people who have lost their life. In Washington State we currently have over 53,000 cases and 1,518 people have died.
Experimental COVID-19 vaccine trials are starting to be underway, just this Monday 30,000 Americans received shots from the US government in a study with a potential vaccine created by the National Institute of Health and Moderna. We will not see the results of any trial for many months but as the World Health Organization site a doubling of cases over the past six weeks, it is a glimmer of hope in the active fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Questions and Answers
- Are masks required while in the Forest Lands? Most of the trails are too narrow to practice social distancing and very few people wear masks. If masks are required, would it be possible to post that information at the various trailheads?
Mask are required per the Governor’s orders, 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. If the width of a trail is less than 6ft and there are others on the trail you are required to wear a mask.
The Parks Department is committed to getting information about mask requirement and importance of wearing masks. We are so happy to have people enjoying the ACFL, however, because of the increase in people that means social distancing becomes more difficult and so I recommend that you have a mask with you at all times so if you start your walk alone and find that there are other visitors who cannot maintain social distancing you will be prepared.
These continues to be challenging times. When we all became aware of the Coronavirus in late January and early February, our understanding at first was that it would be not a big deal. It would last a few weeks, and as it grew into a global pandemic we all did what we needed to do - stayed home, isolated from family and friends, closed our schools, closed our public institutions, and our beloved businesses. We thought we would have this done in a few weeks or a few months and everything would return to normal. But then, the term “new normal” became part of our vocabulary.
The government provided federal funding though the CARES act for the unemployed and businesses to keep their doors open. Parts of the economy have thrived, bicycle sales, boat sales, RV sales, and online sales. Small retail and the hospitality, and travel industry have taken heavy financial hits.
We all have learned to use technology to meet, work, learn, recreate and for our healthcare needs. Our global perspective of how small a planet we live on has become more evident every day. Every community, large or small, in every country across the globe has been impacted. Intense emotions, frustrations, politics, addressing systemic racism have become part of the daily landscape.
Our State Governors have had to take draconian steps to flatten the cause of COVID cases. We have fatigue from the restrictions and lightened our resolve and today we have 106 cases per 100,000 in our County. Starting tomorrow, we are mandated to follow stricter restrictions. We must do this for our health, for our economy, for our community. Please mask with me, to save our town. This is not the first time Anacortes has done what needs to be done in a pandemic. I want to share with you today the minutes for the October 8, 1918 City Council Meeting.
Next week on Wednesday City staff will provide the community briefing on Channel 10 at 4pm. I will be back with you the following week on August 12th.