[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a verified resident. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of The B-Town Blog, nor its staff:]
Thoughts on Planning for Successful Opening
Kevin J. Schilling
Burien City Councilmember
April 28, 2020
Information changes every day. Just yesterday (April 27) Governor Inslee released information on a distribution of funds totaling $300 million for counties to give to cities (1), a welcome support for the city’s revenue shortfalls. These shortfalls will change the way cities can provide services, just as COVID-19 has changed how individuals interact with our governments, and how people interact with each other. Local government is expected to handle the majority of the work closing down facilities, providing emergency services, and following up on complaints in the community. Now, Washington specifically, is gearing up to open up and it is vital to have a comprehensive program in place that provides the necessary transitionary support for families, businesses, and governments.
In an April 21 letter to Vice President Pence, Governor Inslee explained the need for close to 2.5 million test kits in order to be successful. He asked the federal government to work toward improving the testing system and make it available at home, mandate the manufacturing of swabs by producers, standardize laboratory analysis, and create a system of fair access for vulnerable communities (2). The Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University developed a national strategy that can be implemented statewide in their analysis, “A National Plan to Enable Comprehensive COVID-19 Case Finding and Contact Tracing in the US.” (3) They explain the following needs: 1) ready access to rapid testing, 2) widespread serological testing to understanding rate of infection and 3) ability to trace contacts. In order to do this, they argue, nationally, we need 100,000 tracers and a cost of $3.6 billion in emergency funding to states.
In response to growing need for states to reopen economically and socially, Governor Inslee’s Recovery Plan, “Box In The Virus,” works to 1) test widely, 2) isolate quickly, 3) identify contacts, and 4) quarantine contacts (4). The Governor, however, explains that the barrier to implementing this sort of scheme requires processing thousands of tests a day (upwards of 30,000). We need a plan that identifies and coordinates with local administrations now more than ever. Local governments and communities are going to be responsible for the success or failure of the Governor’s plan (5). We must be at the table in order to provide the best information and communication to successfully implement it. I’ve outlined a few elements that I believe should be focused on for the best transition.
First, Burien joins the other cities of Washington in arguing for direct funding from Congress to fill the local revenue gaps in order to ensure localities have the funds they need to continue to operate smoothly. Burien is currently projecting a 16% revenue shortfall. Now is the time for Congress to realize the immense needs of our local infrastructure in the response to the COVID crisis, and provide funding to local authorities and states.
Secondly, Burien can take this opportunity to implement a strategy to maintain our newly progressed City Hall digital access capability to ensure the entire population of the city has access to the council meetings and business of the city. This is a simple transition that not only the City of Burien can make, but so can our neighboring jurisdictions. One avenue Burien can take as a leader in the region is to ensure that, local governments can prioritize the development of municipal wide broadband for low income/vulnerable communities to have access to WiFi. School closures and home-based work has shown that, regardless of incomes, everyone deserves the right to access the internet. While schools have been creative with the distribution of Chromebooks, and Comcast and other service providers have been helpful, we can work toward a structural change that helps bridge the gaps in access to our newest understood utility, the internet.
While people are at home, they need the ability to test themselves. But we also need to prioritize the most vulnerable in our community. We need regional contact tracing service providing to elderly, homeless, and Non-English speakers. According to the Puget Sound Regional Council, the key to success will be the availability of widespread and rapid testing and expanding the team of public health workers who can help identify and communicate with contacts of those infected with the virus so they can self-isolate. Our region is home to the world’s greatest tech companies. The governor and tech companies need to partner to create technological opportunities and apps for tracing (6) in order to capture contacts and have people report symptoms. Importantly, the government has to build public trust for individuals to use the app and have priority testing for elderly and at-risk individuals (7).
Governor Inslee Proclamation 20-52: Extending Statewide Orders Relating to Long-Term Care works to “to identify and provide appropriate personnel for conducting necessary and ongoing incident related assessments.” (8) To accomplish this, the state and local authorities need to hire dozens in each locality to talk to each positive corona virus patient (9). Local officials and organizations can coordinate strategy for outreach to communities that do not speak English. One way Burien and the County can be creative is to create a volunteer hub for assisting in COVID tracing (10). By creating a volunteer clearinghouse for community members to get involved, we can expand opportunities for communities to assist in contact tracing and begin the process of reopening. In collaboration with business and local jurisdictions, the state must, additionally, establish workforce and placement centers in local jurisdictions for training and job opportunities for displaced workers to quickly get back into the work force (11). A mix of a volunteer hub and workforce placement center in our community would do wonders to help displaced workers and get people to work.
Ultimately, as Washington has been a leader in closing down and fighting COVID, we can also be a leader in reopening. Local jurisdictions need to coordinate with the state to create social distancing enforcement procedures for parks, schools, and businesses. Cities can create expanded pedestrian plans for downtown cores, and expand opportunities for investments in neighborhood shared amenities and green spaces for the post-COVID world. That means that cities must have specific local economic recovery plan in place featuring opportunities for live events, outdoor events, food trucks and other opportunities for restaurants and ma-pa stores, and open farmer’s markets. All in all, we need an expanded relationship between the state and local jurisdictions in order to provide the best services available now, and the best planning in place for post-COVID life.
1 https://www.governor.wa.gov/news-media/inslee-announces-distribution-funding-local-governments-federal- stimulus-package
3 https://www.centerforhealthsecurity.org/our-work/pubs_archive/pubs-pdfs/2020/200410-national-plan-to-contact- tracing.pdf
6 https://www.centerforhealthsecurity.org/resources/COVID-19/COVID-19-fact-sheets/200408-contact-tracing- factsheet.pdf
7 https://citiesspeak.org/2020/04/02/preventing-spread-of-covid-19-among-the-most-vulnerable-to- complications/
8 https://www.governor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/proclamations/20-52%20-%20COVID- 19%20LTC%20Extensions%20%28tmp%29.pdf
9 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/16/us/coronavirus-massachusetts-contact- tracing.html
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