By Kari Bray / Snohomish Health District
The sunshine has many people dreaming of summer, and we’ve been getting a number of questions about spring and summer events.
Our community is looking ahead to what’s next and wondering when we can get back to more of the activities we enjoy.
Unfortunately, the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic continues, as do the measures needed to reduce its spread and prevent a surge in cases and deaths.
That means some of our favorite highlights of spring and summer, like shopping at a local farmers market or attending a festival, are going to look different this year. Some events or activities may be canceled, while others will need to be modified so people can stay safe and healthy.
The data shows that social distancing is working to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Washington. It also shows that we still need social distancing if we want to maintain the progress we’ve made against this disease. We are not out of this yet.
Specific requirements may change throughout the spring and summer, but some level of distancing – along with increased hand hygiene, cleaning and disinfecting, and other illness prevention measures – still will be needed for quite some time to protect our community against a resurgence of COVID-19.
Our community is resilient and summer cannot be put on hold. We may have to cancel events, modify activities or otherwise adjust our plans, but we’ll persevere. As you are able, please continue to support businesses and organizations in your community as well as checking in on friends, family and neighbors. Small gestures of kindness can go a long way.
We encourage you to go outside and enjoy the sunshine. Do so safely by staying close to home, maintaining at least six feet of distance from others who are not household members, and respecting closures or partial closures of parks, playgrounds or other outdoor venues.
For those who are planning farmers markets and other seasonal events, we want to provide some more information.
Farmers markets and produce stands
Farmers markets are a key piece of our communities where we find local, fresh, and healthy food. Some accept nutrition benefit programs like WIC or SNAP, opening more healthy options for families.
Farmers markets and produce stands are considered essential businesses during the COVID-19 response, and food or other essential vendors are allowed. To clarify whether your booth or business is considered essential, a form is available online from the Governor’s Office.
There are measures that must be taken to keep people safe and healthy at markets. Find our guidance document here.
At this time, farmers markets can only offer to-go food items. Vendors who do not sell food or other essential items would not be allowed under current health orders. Also, no samples or eating on-site.
Just like at grocery stores, people shopping at farmers markets should take precautions:
• Keep at least six feet of distance from others as much as possible.
• Wear a cloth face cover.
• Send only one member per household to shop if possible.
• Stay only as long as needed to purchase essential items.
• Pre-order and pre-pay if the option is available so you can grab and go.
• Don’t touch or smell products. Let the vendor bag your purchases.
• Pay with a card or digital payment options if you can, or pack small bills so you can pay with exact amounts to minimize cash handling.
• Wash your hands before and after going to the market, and rinse your produce when you get home. If you pack your produce out in reusable bags, wash the bags, too.
• Leave pets at home.
Be patient and compassionate. Vendors are working hard to keep people healthy. The layout and rules of your local farmers market may be different than what you’re used to, and at times it may take longer than usual to get to your favorite booths and get your items. Don’t crowd or rush people. We’re in this together.
Vendors or managers at markets should be taking the following steps to ensure health and safety at the site:
• Using websites, social media or email/mailing lists to communicate clearly with shoppers about expectations at the market, as well as options like pre-ordering or grab-and-go.
• Listing products available and prices online so people can bring exact amounts.
• Having clear signage reminding people to maintain distance, wash hands, and go home if they’re sick. There are signs available to print at www.snohd.org/501/Posters-for-Download.
• Arranging the market area with a staffed entrance and exit as well as defined aisles so people can navigate without being too close to each other. Vendor booths must be at least 10 feet apart.
• Making sure a handwashing station is accessible to shoppers and clearly marked. Vendors must also have their own handwashing station for employees, and are encouraged to have hand sanitizer available at booths.
• Using tape, flags or other temporary markers to show where customers should stand to maintain distance from vendors at each booth.
• Cleaning and sanitizing surfaces at booths frequently.
• Considering offering a seniors-only hour.
• Having two people per booth, one to package products and one to handle money. The person handling money should wear gloves. Both should wear cloth face covers.
Summer events or programs
We know that there are many summer events people have been planning for over the course of months, as well as annual summer programs that would usually be gearing up or enrolling participants right now.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, people should not be planning for summer events the same way they normally would. This illness and the measures needed to limit its spread will require adjustments to plans, even ones that are scheduled for weeks or months in the future.
At this point, the Snohomish Health District is not recommending cancelation of all summer events. We are, however, recommending that people and organizations have plans for enhanced social distancing, sanitation and hygiene measures. Groups and event planners should be cautious about making plans that extend beyond what is currently allowable. You should also plan to remain flexible, as guidance may need to be revised in the coming weeks and months.
It is a good time to consider whether your events or programs can be done while meeting these measures. Keep in mind that health and safety orders in place at the time of your event may require you to cancel or reschedule. For example, under the current Stay Home, Stay Healthy order, non-essential gatherings are not allowed, even with distancing and hygiene in place. Later in the spring and summer, the degree of social distancing requirements may change, allowing for some events or activities to resume.
Things to consider include:
• Can you create a flexible plan or multiple plans so that you are able to adjust quickly to changes in requirements?
• If you have an event or program that you charge for, do you have a refund policy and is it clearly communicated to people before they pay?
• Do you have or can you arrange for accessible handwashing stations, as well as hand sanitizer for every employee, volunteer and/or participant?
• Do you have supplies and are you allowing the time to clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces like tables, counters, doorknobs or handles.
• Do you have a plan to monitor for symptoms and ensure that ill people – employees or guests – are not attending? Will you be able to staff the event or program if multiple employees become ill or are exposed to someone with COVID-19?
• Is your event likely to draw participants in high-risk groups, like people who are older than 60 or have underlying health conditions? Events geared specifically toward populations who are at higher risk of severe illness should not take place during this pandemic.
• Can you space people at least six feet apart and booths or stations at least 10 feet apart?
• Can you modify or remove activities so people are not handling the same items? Sports that involve throwing or catching balls, carnival rides, and play equipment are examples where multiple people would be touching the same surface back-to-back and sanitation between each use is challenging. Have a plan in place to ensure hand hygiene for every participant directly after playing, as well as sanitizing of equipment after use. If that isn’t realistic, consider cancelling the activity altogether.
• Does your event or program encourage or require people to congregate in large groups? For example, fireworks shows attract large groups who sit close together for a length of time. Can spectacles, concerts or shows be arranged so people can view from afar and/or remotely online?
Some organizations already have announced event cancelations. Others are waiting for additional guidance and adjusting their plans. We know that it is frustrating not to know exactly what measures or requirements will be in place two or three months from now.
Please remember that these measures are not in place to disrupt our lives – though we know they have done so. They are in place to disrupt the spread of a new and dangerous virus. Canceling, postponing or modifying events will be necessary in the coming weeks and months to keep our community healthy, to ensure that our medical providers and first responders have the capacity to care for people who are ill, and, ultimately, to save lives.
The Public Health Essentials! blog highlights the work of the Snohomish Health District and shares health-related information and tips.