As we remain watchful of the County’s metrics, the City focuses on how to best support our community through this economic sustainability.
Good afternoon and welcome to my August 12 COVID-19 Community Briefing. As we remain watchful of the County’s metrics, the City focuses on how to best support our community through this economic sustainability. We have many tools to help support Anacortes through these difficult and uncertain time, and our residents have the tools to help support the community as well. Our economic recovery is intertwined with the health of our community. Our greatest tools right now are wearing a mask, physical distancing, and practicing good hygiene by washing our hands often.
We need to remind ourselves daily that by doing these things we are supporting our favorite small retail store, and restaurant. By following public health guidelines, we are supporting these businesses so they can continue to be a part of this community and provide jobs to our friends and neighbors. These businesses are the backbone of our town and together, we need to all remain committed to supporting them. The City continue to look for new ways to reach out and support struggling businesses and families. Thank you for doing your part – and we at the city are committed to continuing to do our part.
Changes to the Safe Start Plan
Right now, there is widespread community transmission of COVID-19 in our state. This is not limited to just a few hotspots like workplaces, long-term care facilities, and certain industries. Community transmission is what is stopping us from meeting the state’s metrics – things like gatherings with close families and friends are driving the rates of infection. Masks make a difference in controlling disease spread and thankfully mask usage is going up.
We had our first case in the county on March 10th and since then, for every 44.4 cases, 4 people have been hospitalized, 1.5 people have been sent to the ICU, and there has been 1 death. It is important to understand that the data is showing that the demographics of those getting infected are shifting. Members of the Hispanic community we showing disproportionately high rates of infection. However, due to the exceptional outreach efforts at Skagit County Public Health those numbers have decreased. The age of those getting COVID-19 has now unfortunately shifted from the older age demographic to the 0-19 age group. Young people must hear the message that they are not invincible, this is a deadly virus and we must all protect ourselves and our young community members.
Education is our best tool as a community, don’t turn a blind eye to unsafe practices, we need to have conversations with people and businesses about the need to comply with restrictions on gatherings and the need to wear masks. Currently, our state’s infection rate is about 1.5, that means for every person infected, it spreads to 1.5 other people. This leads to exponential spread - we need the infection rate below 1 to beat COVID-19. The Governor has been modifying his safe start plan to help slow and stop community transmission in high-risk gathering places.
We continue to see reports of COVID-19 outbreaks at spiritual gatherings. The Governor still strongly encourages religious leaders and communities have services remotely. Drive-in services are allowed and are a safe alternative. Counseling services are essential and are permitted in-person, if remote counseling is not possible. Currently, services can be held at a place of worship with up to 25% of room capacity or up to 200 people, whichever is less. Six feet of physical distancing must be maintained between households and masks are required for everyone. In-home services at a person’s residence with up to five total individuals (excluding organization staff) is permitted as well, as long as all participants are wearing face coverings.
Indoor Fitness Restrictions
Exercising indoors is a higher risk activity for transmitting COVID-19. Adequate physical space, ventilation, and sanitation practices need to be maintained. Larger indoor spaces with fewer people is less risky than smaller indoor spaces with more people, even when physical distancing can be maintained. Currently, classes of mixed households are allowed with a maximum of 8 from different households and a maximum of 12 in a group. Small enclosed court sports like racquetball and squash, are currently not allowed in any indoor facility in Phase 2 or Phase 3. As of Monday, unstaffed gyms are not able to reopen until Phase 4 unless the facility ensures the space is staffed full time.
School administrators across the state and the country are facing challenges and complexities around how to operate schools this year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Anacortes School District has been in consultation with local health officials, local elected leaders like myself, teachers and other school staff, families and other stakeholders in considering the risks and benefits of different modes of education in the context of COVID-19.
The Governor issued a statewide plan with several different considerations for deciding whether or not to return to in-person learning, but no matter the county, when COVID-19 infection rates are high, the state strongly recommends school districts move to mostly online or remote learning. The statewide framework looks at individual county data and is broken into three categories of disease transmission level, as measured by the incidence of cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period: High risk, moderate risk and low risk. Currently Skagit County falls into the High rick category.
Phase 3 Metrics
To move to phase 3 a county must meet the following metrics:
- A county must have fewer than 25 new cases per 100,000 residents over 14 consecutive days. We currently have 107.6 new cases per 100,000 residents.
- A county must have greater than 50 individuals tested per each new case during the prior week. We have preliminary numbers indicating 24.8 tests per each new case.
- The percentage of individuals testing positive must be less than 2%. We have preliminary numbers indicating we are at 4%.
- The percentage of beds occupied in a county must me less than 80%. We are currently at 86%
- Lastly, the percentage of those beds occupied by COVID-19 cases must be less than 10%. We are currently at 5.1%.
The State has reported that it has not been able to update the two of the key metrics on the State dashboard since August 1. We do have current case counts, but do not have the latest on the State risk assessment data regarding number tested per new cases, and percent testing positive due to issues with numbers of negative test results.
Across the United States we saw a jump of over 40,000 cases in just one day bringing our case total to over 5 million. There have been over 162,000 deaths with over 500 deaths reported in just one day. Worldwide we are nearing 20 million cases of COVID-19.
By the numbers
Island Hospital has tested a total of 3,726 people with a total of 51 positive cases, 9 positive hospitalized cases, and there have been no deaths. We have had an increase of 10 cases the last month here in Anacortes. As of yesterday, the Skagit County Public Health District reports 891 cases, 22 fatalities, and 85 total hospitalizations.
There have been 18,607 tests with 392 people testing positive so far. The testing facility continues to be open 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, the highest number of teste performed in a day is 595 on July 13. This site continues to be an important tool in fighting COVID-19, if you are concerned you have been exposed – please go get tested.
Many people may not know they have been exposed and they can unknowingly spread the virus. Contact tracers follow up with employers regarding workplace exposure, infection control and disinfection and quarantine of close contacts. They work closely with regional hospitals and clinics. Initial interviews are done within 24 hours of a positive test and contact is made with close contacts within 48 hours. The Governor also issued a proclamation which exempts personally identifiable information collected by COVID-19 case investigators from public disclosure.
Skagit County has contact tracers working to alert those who have been exposed to COVID-19 so that they can quarantine and protect others. Today the County announced they have just hired three new people to assist with this important work, each contact tracer will be working 10 hour shifts.
Planning Community and Economic Development
Meanwhile, the City continues to conduct daily business and provide services to the community. Currently, Single Family Residential permits are at 36 compared to 29 this time last year. There are 95 SFR alterations permits compared to 103 last year. Overall, total permits are at 435 compared to 494 last year.
The City will be receiving 10 Parklets (streeteries) within the next two weeks. They are quick to assemble and once they are, these Parklets will facilitate physically distant outdoor dining and retail. They will be located at: Fidalgo Artisan Yarn and Clothing, Adrift, Brown Lantern, Dads Diner, Indulge, Nonna Luisa, Drink Your Veggies, Fridas, Mamma Wing, Wheelhouse and El Jinete!
Washington State has created a new eviction rent assistance program using federal CARES Act dollars. Approximately $1.3 million dollars will be coming to families in Skagit County who need assistance. The Samish Indian Nation, The Housing Authority of Skagit County, Catholic Community Services Farmworker Center, and Community Action of Skagit County will work to serve the community and distribute these funds.
The program will hit the ground running in a few weeks along with our own local program at the City. City staff will present a proposal to use $57,000 of Community Development Block Grant funds for rental assistance to the City Council. We recognize the financial strain many families are suffering and we are working on a supplemental program to help meet the needs of the most vulnerable in our City.
Anacortes Parks Department
I want to take a moment to talk about wearing a mask at Parks and in the Anacortes Community Forest Lands. I have heard from many of you, who are concerned, and frustrated. I want to make it very clear that if you are going out to a City Park or to the ACFL, you need to be wearing a mask unless you are walking, hiking, bicycling, or running and you are able to at all times maintain 6ft distance from any non-household member. With the beautiful weather we have been having, it is very likely that you may come within 6 feet of a non-household member and so you should at all times have a mask with you so that you can comply with this order and show compassion for those trying to share and enjoy our beautiful outdoor spaces.
Parks and Recreation Cancelation
Due to the restrictions placed on recreation activity and gatherings in phase 2 the City of Anacortes has had to cancel our annual Youth Soccer League for the 2020 season. Under the current restrictions for gatherings of people there is not a way for kids to safely gather and play games. Our priority is to protect the safety of our kids and families in the community and so we are working on alternatives to help keep kids active, and safe.
We are currently working on a way for small groups of kids and a coach (limit of 5 total) to get together and practice skills. If you are a parent or coach and want to get 4 kids together to practice soccer skills this Fall, you can sign up for one of our Training Cubes. The Training Cubes will run from late August through October. If you are interested please reach out to our Parks Department for more information.
Causland Memorial Cannon
City Crews removed the cannon at Causland Park on today so that our volunteers can begin their restoration work. The cannon will be stored indoors so volunteers can remove rust and repair the cannon which was first placed at the park around 1960. The City’s goal is to have it back in place before the Causland Park Centennial next summer. If you have questions or would like to help the restoration effort, please contact Anacortes Parks and Recreation at 360-293-1918.
Anacortes Public Library
While the library misses seeing you each day, there are some exciting new options for connecting virtually that allow you to participate in events wherever you may be. This week during a Zoom Craft Class a family tuned in from Arizona! They will be moving to Anacortes soon, but are already making connections with their new hometown through virtual library programs. If your family has missed a library program, they are all available on the Library website.
- Created more than 130 virtual programs
- They've been viewed more than 55,000 times, that's right: 55 thousand!
- Top episodes have had more than 2,000 participants, and have featured programs from city staff across departments, including our Parks & Recreation Director highlighting beekeeping, our Public Works & Legal directors hosting a storytime in the ocean, and our waste management and police departments reading stories.
- Hundreds of you have joined the library's digital platforms
- Digital reading and listening has gone up more than 100% across platforms
- Since curbside book delivery service began, the library has served 1,675 customers, with a high of 77 people checking out items on voting day.
Even though we all feel far apart, we are together in this. As the library plans programs for fall, I look forward to seeing community members sharing skills, hosting programs, and supporting each other. It was no surprise to us that videos with community partners and local artists and business owners were the most popular. Anacortes is strong together, and even apart, we are learning and sharing as a community.
Skagit County Commissioners Award Grant Funding
The Skagit County Commissioners recently awarded 75 businesses and nonprofits a total of $809,000 as part of the Skagit County Small Business Grant Program, supporting local businesses and nonprofits impacted by COVID-19. Awards, were from $5,000 to $25,000, and went to Skagit businesses with 25 or fewer employees, helping them remain open, and retain jobs. 130 businesses and 20 nonprofits applied asking for a total of $1.5 million in funding. There is a need in the County as our businesses continue to struggle. We can all do our part by supporting local businesses and masking up!
Questions and Answers
1. Are there any penalties to businesses or residents refusals to follow phase two guidelines?
Businesses must comply with Phase 2 guidelines, if they are found not in compliance it is a business violation and the Department of Labor and Industries as well as the appropriate enforcement agency will get involved. We hope most people will wear a face covering to protect the health of their friends and loved ones. The Anacortes Police Department continues to focus on education and informing people of the need to wear mask to comply with the Governor’s orders.
2. I have heard that there have been outbreaks in different squadrons at NAS Whidbey. Since many of the personnel live in Anacortes, are you given these numbers?
There have been hotspots in several cases across the state, local health departments work closely with facilities experiences hotspots to contain and contact trace the spread of the virus. Due to privacy laws surrounding public health, the address of those who test positive is not provided to the City. The Island County Public Health Department tracks all positive cases in their county and breaks it down by City which is available publicly on your website. Currently they report 249 positive cases and 11 deaths across the county.
3. Please discuss the decision to keep town playgrounds closed? What metrics are you using to continue their closure? What metrics will you use to allow them to open?
The City is committed to following the Governor’s Safe Start plan to reopen our economy. Our primary goal is to maintain public safety in the community. The Governor’s plan closes playgrounds during phases 1 and 2. We are currently in phase 2 and the Governor has paused all counties from moving forward to the next phase until 5 metrics are met that which I listed earlier in the briefing. When the county is approved by the state’s Health Department to move to phase 3 the City will reopen its playgrounds in accordance with state guidelines.
4. If I am meeting my walking group at the ACFL do I have to wear a mask?
If you are going to be meeting a group of people to walk together you absolutely must wear a mask. Gatherings of over 5 people outside your household per week are prohibited during this phase so at this time you should not be meeting with groups larger than 5.
5. What should I do it I go to the park and I see people not wearing masks?
It is each person’s individual responsibility to wear a face covering in public. This is a requirement set by the state. If someone is not wearing a mask they may have a medical reason for not doing so. Whether those around you are wearing face coverings or not, it is extremely important to focus on keeping 6 feet of distance between you and washing your hands often.
Many of us have friends, family, or coworkers who are immuno-compromised, or belong to a risk group. These people close to us are at higher risk to have a severe cases of COVID-19 and have complications that could potentially be deadly. These are our friends, neighbors, and family members. Their safety is dependent on the actions of everyone in the community. When you chose to wear a mask you are telling everyone around you that you care, and that you have compassion for those who are at risk. It shows that a small inconvenience of wearing a mask is something you would happily do to protect those you care about and to support your community, and your local small business.
But, we continue to struggle with wearing our masks – the last reported numbers show an increase in COVID cases. We must practice this new mask wearing mandate. We must remain diligent in our behavior. This reminds me of when we were first required to wear seatbelts. I remember there were so many reasons that people used not to comply.
- Your would be trapped in your car in case of an accident.
- It was your right not to wear a seat belt.
- Seatbelts were uncomfortable.
- And my favorite, I can’t sit next to my boyfriend if I wear my seatbelt.
It took some time, and we all realized wearing seat belts saves live. Today, it is a habit, and we just “click it” when we get into our cars. We must make masks a habit now. It saves lives. We need to embrace it. To protect ourselves, our families, friends, our community’s health, and our economy.
We do not have the luxury of time to decide, we must act now for each other.