Addressing citizens via his second virtual town hall meeting, Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson Thursday updated viewers on the city’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak — including a timeline for reopening popular amenities like playgrounds, public restrooms and the dog park. Nelson also confirmed the city will be closing down a portion of Main Street to vehicle traffic as a pilot project, and said that building the new downtown Civic Park may be delayed as a result of “very, very high” construction bids.
Nelson started off by announcing that the Parks, Recreation and Culture Services Department will be launching a new Play It Safe plan that outlines how Edmonds will begin reopening its parks facilities. The plan follows Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start” phased approach for reopening the state following the shutdown aimed at slowing the COVID-19 outbreak. The Play It Safe plan would go into effect once Snohomish County (and Edmonds) enter Phase 2 of the governor’s plan, which is expected in early June but not official until the governor announces it. (That announcement is coming next week.)
Under Phase 2, Edmonds would allow outdoor sports including tennis, pickle ball, outdoor basketball courts, pétanque and sand volleyball — as long as there are groups of five or fewer. The Edmonds off-leash dog park will be reopened in Phase 3, which is approximately three weeks after Phase 2 is initiated, Nelson said. In addition, city playgrounds and playfields, the skatepark, permanent restrooms and shelter rentals, and the Frances Anderson Center will reopen in Phase 3, with group sizes of 50 or fewer.
Nelson then addressed a range of questions that citizens sent to him in advance of the town hall, followed by answering questions that came in live via Facebook.
The mayor said he has responded to citizens’ concerns about ways to help Edmonds’ long-term care facilities, which have been particularly hard hit by the virus. Nelson said he spoke with Snohomish Health District Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters and established a program in which city staff communicates weekly with the city’s 65 long-term care facilities, and shares information about those facilities’ needs with the health district.
The city is also working with the Edmonds Senior Center to stay in touch with local seniors through meal delivery and tele-counseling, he said.
Nelson addressed how the city will coordinate with local businesses to ensure they can safely reopen to the public. City staff will be rededicated to providing information to businesses and will make site visits as well as take other steps to ensure businesses can safely open to the public.
Speaking in more detail about what the Phase 2 reopening could look like, Nelson talked specifically about requirements for restaurant dining during Phase 2. Restaurants will be at half capacity, with tables 6 feet apart, dining parties will be five or fewer, and bars won’t be open. There will also be paper menus and single-use condiments. Restaurant employees must wear masks and will undergo health screenings at every shift.
Retail businesses also will be at reduced capacity and employees will be required to wear masks, Nelson said.
The responsibilities of a business customer in the age of COVID-19 was another question Nelson addressed. He said those responsibilities include wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing and not going into a businesses if you have any physical symptoms of illness.
He noted that the city two days ago sent a survey to residents asking them 12 questions aimed at defining what a safe business looks like to them.”We’ve already heard from 1,200 people,” Nelson said. “So I think it’s clear people are very interested about making sure when businesses reopen they that have certain safety measures in place, so we’ll do what we can to help ensure that.”
The mayor was also asked what enforcement action the city would take if someone was found violating the governor’s stay-at-home orders. “We’ve primarily relied on voluntary compliance and it has been very effective,” Nelson said. “Folks have done their part and I think that moving forward that’s really what we are going to be relying on.” Police responses have focused on education, Nelson noted.
Another question was related to how the city is helping small businesses. Nelson said that in addition to the city’s efforts mentioned earlier, the county on Thursday announced a new Snohomish County program offering up to $25,000 grants to small businesses impacted by COVID-19. (Apply at workforcesnohmish.org.)
In addition, the city is providing $100,000 to the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce for business-to-business grants so that local businesses can help each other with services ranging from legal advice to graphic design to online shopping. A total of 52 grants have been awarded so far, the mayor said.
Addressing a question about whether mask wearing was required outside the home, Nelson said this: “The key thing about masks is to make sure.you are practicing social distancing while visiting businesses or around groups of people. If you cannot maintain that social distancing, put on that mask,” he said. “If you are going inside a building, put on a mask.”
Answering an inquiry about where to get masks, Nelson announced that the city has ordered 2,000 cloth masks that will be distributed free to the public in the next few weeks.
Asked how city government will look when things reopen, Nelson replied that many things will be different. Frontline staff will be wearing masks, and visitors to city buildings will also be asked to wear a mask. “We’ve also made things a lot more streamlined so you don’t have to come in,” Nelson said. He pointed to the city’s announcement Thursday that it is now offering online development permits, with online applications for other types of permits coming soon.
Nelson offered a short but heartfelt reply to the question of what city projects or programs he was looking forward to implementing, that may be delayed due to COVID-19,
“I’m looking forward to having a city where nobody is getting sick and dying, and anything else is on the back burner,” Nelson said.
He then turned to a much-discussed community topic: Whether part of Main Street in downtown Edmonds would be closed to vehicles — partly to give restaurants and retailers more space to spread out onto sidewalks, if they so desire, during this era of social distancing. The city has received feedback from citizens, community leaders and businesses on the idea, Nelson said, and “you better believe we are going to definitely close down Main Street at some point for a pilot project, so we have a pedestrian-safe experience for folks.” The city has started looking at ideas and will announce more details later, he said.
Nelson also received a question about city hiring, and why certain positions — such as the city’s new human services manager — were filled “when people are hurting.” While the city has initiated a hiring freeze, it is still filling positions that “are related to the COVID-19 response,” the mayor said. “Our human services manager is definitely helping those most in need and we’re seeing a lot more of those who have a lot of needs,” he said.
Among the other questions Nelson addressed:
Why are the city’s permanent restrooms closed at the parks and the beach? The city is developing a plan to ensure public restrooms can be cleaned properly, and that will be in place by Phase 3, Nelson said. Restrooms will have to be cleaned at least twice a day and workers will need to wear full personal protective equipment while doing so, he added.
The state says that outdoor tennis is allowed so why are the city’s tennis courts still locked? The tennis courts have to be staffed under new state guidance and there is no staffing at the city’s tennis courts. The hope is to have the courts open by Phase 2, in early June, Nelson said.
Why is the off-leash dog park still closed? Nelson said the city is following Centers for Disease Control guidelines that advise avoiding large gatherings of peoples and dogs. The dog park will reopen in Phase 3, Nelson said.
Why was the decision made so early to close Yost Pool? Nelson explained that the city contracts with the YMCA to provide aquatics staff, and the YMCA had to lay off staff when its own facilities were shut down due to COVID-19. Since it takes six to eight weeks to hire and train staff, it wasn’t feasible for the city to open Yost Pool late in the summer, he said.
Why are the playgrounds and splash park closed when children are not in an age range deemed at risk for the virus? Children can be carriers of the virus and can spread it, Nelson said. There is a lot of physical contact at playgrounds and the city doesn’t have the staff to constantly sanitize playground surfaces. Playgrounds will reopen in Phase 3, he said.
What’s up with Civic Field? The city did get bids back on the project to renovate the downtown Edmonds Civic Field site and those bids were “very, very high,” Nelson said. “There’s definitely some question marks as far as the future of Civic Field…in terms of moving forward with that this year.” More details will be shared later, he added.
“We will get through this hopefully sooner rather than later,” Nelson concluded. “I can’t wait to be able to take my kids to the playground, and play in the playground with them. I’m ready to dine in some restaurants and have a drink or two. But until that time, we really have to be proactive at being safe.”
The video was recorded on Facebook Live and you can watch it here:
— By Teresa Wippel