Editor’s note: This is the full text of a letter sent by Ocean Shores Mayor Crystal Dingler Monday to local businesses. Dingler advocates for caution when it comes to easing pandemic-related restrictions, but says the local economy has reached an urgent status and local leaders should reach for a balance that allows commerce and uses social distancing and other rules to be as safe.
4 May 2020
Ocean Shores Business Owners and Managers:
Thank you for all your emails with questions or on how we can do better. Many
good ideas. All things being equal, hotels and other nightly rentals will be able to open on May 19. The only thing that will stop this is an outbreak, which I do not anticipate. We will then watch the numbers closely.
I met with our other County mayors Saturday and we are all anxious for business to resume. We are, I believe, the only city that is so dependent on a single industry. Even Westport with which we have most in common, has commercial fishing and fish processing. A few of the Mayors talked about how some of their businesses had successfully going online with their products, but most were simply concerned.
I have a little additional information from the Governor’s Friday broadcast and a brief conversation with our County Commissioner, Vickie Raines. In order to qualify to move more quickly from Phase I to Phase II of the Governor’s reopening plan, the County must provide the State with a plan for the following that the State will have to approve, as shown on the County’s Public Health website http://www.healthygh.org/in-the-news-1/2020/5/1/grays-harbor- covid-19-policy-group-is-closely-monitoring-countys-readiness-to-re-open
1. “Health care system readiness to provide care for, including critical care, for a large number of people in a short period of time. This includes the availability of adequate beds, ventilators, and PPE.
2. Enough supplies, PPE, and personnel to immediately te st everyone with COVID-19 symptoms and those with high-risk exposures.
3. Enough trained staff and volunteers to rapidly isolate people with COVID-19, support their needs while they are in isolation and trace and support quarantine in their close contacts.
4. Enough personnel, PPE, and testing equipment to rapidly respond to outbreaks in congregate living situations such as long-term care facilities and homeless shelters.”
This is for the entire County, which is a complex system with many varied parts.
According to the website, “Grays Harbor County Public Health’s response to COVID-19 has been coordinated by an Incident Management Team (IMT) staffed by many local public health, public safety, health care, and emergency response personnel. The Incident Management Team’s activities are directed by the Grays Harbor COVID-19 Policy Group composed of County law enforcement, Emergency Management, EMS, public health, and elected officials.”
Specifically, the Policy team consists of Sheriff Rick Scott, County Commissioner Vickie Raines, GHC Health Officer Dr. John Bausher, Health Director Karolyn Holden, and Prosecuting Attorney (Chief Civil Deputy) Norma Tillotson. These are the people who will make the decision whether or not to seek an early opening. They have a great weight on their shoulders.
“The Grays Harbor COVID-19 Policy Group will assess the County’s readiness to apply for a variance to the Governor’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order. Currently, there are several areas of concern that will need to be addressed:
• Local health care facilities are currently unable to get enough PPE through regular or emergency supply chains to resume regular health care activities such as elective surgeries or expanded COVID-19 testing.
• Grays Harbor County Emergency Management is currently unable to acquire adequate testing supplies in a predictable way. The Grays Harbor County Health Officer is currently restricting testing to high priority groups to conserve test supplies until the supply chain opens up.
• Grays Harbor County Public Health lacks an adequate number of trained staff to rapidly isolate and investigate large numbers of new COVID-19 cases.
• The Grays Harbor COVID-19 Policy Group is aware that there are many local people who are fearful that people from more populous areas wh ere COVID-19 is more prevalent will introduce infection into local communities, and the Policy Group is concerned about the effect that those fears and tensions may have on
While I urge the GH COVID-19 Policy Group to move forward on knocking down each of the barriers listed to moving to Phase II reopening of businesses, I understand their concerns and know that they are only interested in protecting the people of our County, but our economy has reached urgent status. We need to achieve a balance. We have offered our help and will do everything we can to ensure that our citizens are protected and that our fragile coastal economy does not fail.
The State has decided not to open any State Parks on the Coast yet; DNR has decided not to open Damon Point; and GH County and Pacific County decided not to open their beach approaches, leaving us in a position where we could not open ours either without funneling too many visitors onto our area beaches. While I appreciate their concerns, in some ways, Washingtonians are being painted with the same brush as those who behaved badly on California, Florida, etc., beaches. I think our people have learned more about social distancing and will use that information to safely use our beaches. In April, our vehicle traffic entering the City was down to about 40% of 2019, although April 2019 was a somewhat higher than normal traffic month.
I also think that we need to be prepared for visitors with safety requirements that protect our population from the few who do not think they are vulnerable. Wearing masks and observing social distancing in our businesses seems like a small price to pay to ensure that our visitors, who virtually all come from areas more highly infected than ours, also wear masks and observe social distancing while here.
The County ended their in-the-news piece with, “The Grays Harbor COVID-19 Policy Group will continue to closely monitor local capacity and readiness to respond to the increased transmission of COVID-19 that may occur if social distancing measures are relaxed.”
I do not believe that we need to actually relax social distancing measures, but instead should use them to ensure that we open safely.
I urge you to make any suggestions you have to the County as to how we can reopen business. I know they want to do this as safely and logically as possible. Let’s continue to work together to get a safe reopening started soon. Stay well and safe.
Crystal L. Dingler, Mayor
City of Ocean Shores