Coronavirus news from around the state

Cascade Natural Gas won’t cancel service for nonpayment during outbreak

Cascade Natural Gas will not disconnect service to customers who can’t pay due to loss of work related to the coronavirus.

Cascade, which has an office in Aberdeen and provides gas services to 68 cities in the state, said Tuesday it intends to work with customers who’ve lost income as a result of COVID-19 shutdowns.

The Kennewick-based company won’t disconnect for nonpayment and has filed for a waiver to dismiss customers’ late fees.

Cascade has also instructed its employees to practice social distancing when interacting with customers.

— The Wenatchee World

Secretary of State asks Inslee to cancel April special elections

OLYMPIA — Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman has asked Gov. Jay Inslee to use his emergency authority to cancel the April 28 special elections in response to the new coronavirus.

Those elections are scheduled to take place across 18 of Washington’s counties but don’t involve any candidates for office, according to a letter to the governor Tuesday by Wyman. Rather, they give voters choices on proposed bonds and levies.

While there is less contact in Washington’s vote-by-mail system compared with other states, she wrote, election planners worry there are too many questions about adequately administering an election.

The elections could be rescheduled for the existing Aug. 4 primary or Nov. 3 general election, she wrote.

— The Seattle Times

Trump says US, Canada agree to close border to ‘non-essential traffic’

WASHINGTON, D.C. —President Donald Trump announced the near closure of the Canadian border Wednesday, adding to severe coronavirus-related travel restrictions already affecting Asia and much of Europe.

“We will be, by mutual consent, temporarily closing our Northern Border with Canada to non-essential traffic. Trade will not be affected. Details to follow!” Trump tweeted.

The travel restrictions show the fast-moving threat from the new strain of coronavirus have severely curtailed international travel. Trump has also discouraged non-essential domestic travel and has said he is considering actions that could halt it entirely.

— Los Angeles Times

Small businesses and nonprofits can tap up to $2 million in federal loans

Federal disaster loans of up to $2 million have been made available to Washington small businesses and nonprofits significantly affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Small Business Administration announced that working capital loans for fixed debts, accounts payable, payroll and other bills can be accessed in 32 counties statewide. Repayment plans can stretch up to 30 years at an interest rate of 3.75% for small businesses and 2.75 % for nonprofits.

“Disaster loans can provide vital economic assistance to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing,” SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza said in a news release.

Applicants can apply online or download forms and receive additional relief information there as well. They can also call 1-800-659-2955 or email for more information.

The program is for small businesses, private nonprofits of any size, small agricultural cooperatives and aquaculture enterprises hurt by the COVID-19 outbreak since Jan. 31. The SBA also offers additional resources.

— The Seattle Times

Clark County cannabis sales jump amid virus uncertainty

“We are not banned, and we are indeed open to serve you!”

That’s the recorded message that greets callers who contact The Herbery cannabis shop, another data point in the rapidly changing business landscape as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread.

Cannabis retailers in Clark County have reported an uptick in traffic because consumers have been rushing to stores to stock up during the virus outbreak. The pot industry is seeing the opposite problem of most businesses, which are announcing voluntary closures and cutbacks to their hours, and pot shops are adjusting their practices to prevent the spread of the virus.

“We’ve had much higher than average sales since last Friday,” said Jim Mullen, co-owner of The Herbery, which operates two location in Clark County.

It’s not just a question of higher customer traffic, but also greater individual sales. State law limits how much cannabis individual consumers can purchase, and Mullen said many customers have started to push their tickets right up to that limit.

“People are stocking up,” said Adam Hamide, co-owner of Main Street Marijuana, which operates two Vancouver locations. “They don’t know what’s going to happen.”

The average number of items per customer has risen by about 50 percent since last week, he said.

— The Columbian