Jefferson County has responded to the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic with grace and cooperation. I want to express my appreciation to all for the community’s efforts to slow the infection …
Jefferson County has responded to the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic with grace and cooperation. I want to express my appreciation to all for the community’s efforts to slow the infection rate, help those in need and treat each other with respect and compassion. We have had no new positive cases since April 9. People are helping others and wearing masks to protect the community. Our testing capacity is growing by the day, with local tests on the near horizon.
At the same time, our tourist-based economy will be negatively impacted by this for years to come. Until we have testing for anyone, a vaccine or other effective treatment and substantial herd immunity, I do not believe large events will begin. These events, as well as being critical for our economy, are some of our cultural keystones.
Due to our successes and our small population, we are one of 10 counties allowed to apply for a variance to move into the governor’s Phase 2 of community mitigation. Is Jefferson County ready to restart? Are we ready for visitors from the I-5 corridor? These are big questions without easy answers. The economy is important, but allowing a medical surge that we can’t handle is unacceptable. My fellow commissioners and I are committed to a data-driven, public-health-informed process.
Elsewhere, we have seen haphazard and inconsistent responses fail and consistent public health strategies succeed. We have a chance here to lead Washington’s response in reopening in a safe and measured way. There is no going “back to normal,” but we have an opportunity to create a new, safer paradigm.
Phase 2 covers many sectors of our economy. We will be engaging with a diverse group of stakeholders as we build programs for businesses to be able to open – as they feel it is safe to do so. For small businesses, every day brings new calculations to the fundamental questions: When do I reopen? How do I reopen? Should I reopen? Where can I source enough hand sanitizer to open?
As a small-business owner with a tourist-dependent store, I understand firsthand the impacts all this is having on the fabric of society and the huge time commitment and uncertainty that attempting to get relief creates. Our store won’t open until tourism can safely restart. If we aren’t ready to go to Seattle and go shopping, then we should not invite Seattle to come shopping here.
The virus does not know borders. Our family business can close and open once – but if we have to go through the process twice, we likely will stay closed.
As the Policy Management Group (with representation from the Department of Emergency Management, Public Health, Jefferson County, the City of Port Townsend and Jefferson Healthcare) and many other coalitions of public and private stakeholders begin to look at long-range recovery, we are looking for opportunities as well. Too often, national and state relief efforts end up reinforcing the inequalities that plague our society endemically.
As we look to build a strategy for recovery, we need to make Jefferson County resilient to not just pandemics, but other emergencies as well. It means that as we plan for our recovery, we need to keep in mind other ongoing crises: affordable housing, climate change and the lack of rural broadband, to name a few. These examples are interconnected and actionable now. As we work to get the Port Hadlock sewer shovel-ready for any relief dollars, we create the foundation for more jobs and multi-family housing in the county. As we pursue CARES money for rural broadband to enable more remote work and access to distance learning, we can build more equity, even as we reduce the need for travel and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Society is going to be different, and we as a community have an opportunity to strengthen our county’s core.
This is a time for partnership between county, city, port and PUD; between public and private agencies; between neighbors. If we’ve learned anything in this pandemic, it is that we are all in this together. We have proven we can work together for a common goal in our community-wide response. I am confident as we move into this stage of slowly dialing back community mitigations, we will find solutions to keep congregate events thriving, our kids back in school and our workers back to work. Together we will get through this with a more resilient community.
Please join us online at www.co.jefferson.wa.us and go to “Quick Links: Videos of Meetings-Streaming Live” this Thursday at 5 p.m. for a joint county/city/board of health meeting with our health officer and Jefferson Healthcare, as we look at the opportunities of Phase 2 and whether our community and each business sector is prepared. We have the opportunity to help local businesses and restart jobs and be a model for the rest of Washington State on how a community can work together to reopen safely.
(Greg Brotherton is the current chair of the Board of County Commissioners, representing District 3. He can be reached at email@example.com.)