By Dave Somers and Nate Nehring / For The Herald
It has been only twelve weeks since the first case of COVID-19 in the United States was identified here in Snohomish County. In hindsight, these past three months seem like an eternity.
We could never have imagined that all the promise January seemed to hold for 2020 would give way to one of the most challenging times our country and the world community has faced. It is now spring in the midst of a pandemic with the disease slowly advancing, our economy paused, people at home, and our way of life interrupted.
Snohomish County is no stranger to disaster and tragedy. The Highway 530 landslide six years ago is still a sensitive wound. We’ve experienced the trauma of mass shootings, floods and violent storms. While none of those tragedies will be forgotten, none of them was on the same global scale or impact as the COVID-19 pandemic. In past events, we expected resources and support would be shifted from unaffected areas to us. In this case, our usual allies in time of need — other states, other counties, other cities — are facing the same challenges: a deadly virus, a significant strain on hospitals, and resources stretched thin.
Having experience with prior disasters gives Snohomish County some unique strengths to help us through this one: close regional partnerships, tough and tested emergency managers, and non-partisan leaders focused on saving lives and limiting the disease. Of course, our resilient health care workers adapted quickly and effectively to COVID-19, ensuring medical institutions continue to function for those with the disease or other medical needs. Our first responders, particularly our EMS, fire, and law enforcement partners, have also had to adapt to the new reality.
Also, here at the county, our essential functions continue. Those who serve you in county government continue to fulfill their responsibilities. Every job that can be done remotely is being done remotely. Those that can’t — staff in solid waste, road crews, sheriff’s deputies, medical examiners, jail staff, social workers, courts, clerks, elections, code enforcement, park rangers, the list goes on — they have adjusted their work to ensure they are as safe as possible, while getting their jobs done.
Thus far, we have weathered the storm, even as it continues. We mourn for those who have died, understand that there will be more, and have many friends and family members who are out of work and anxious about the future. But, thankfully, we have avoided the worst-case scenarios. Our health care system is still functioning well, we have flattened the curve, and our community has come together. But what comes next? And, most importantly, when can things get back to normal?
Answers to both these questions are complex. Since this coronavirus is new, scientists are still trying to understand how it works, and our responses are being driven by that science. As they get more certainty, so will we. According to medical professionals, some restrictions are probably necessary, albeit eased from where they are today, until a vaccine or effective treatment is developed. We are optimistic that with the better weather of spring and summer, most businesses will be able to open again and our economy can be jump-started. We expect openings will be gradual and always with an eye toward how the rate of infection is responding. If we see the curve staying flat, we can proceed; if we see spikes, then we may have to dial restrictions back.
With the shock to our economy, county government is proactively preparing for next steps. That is why we are adding two priorities to our crisis response:
1. preparing for economic and community recovery; and
2. cutting our budget.
As resources flow from the federal and state government, we want to do all we can to ensure our businesses and workers get their fair share, since they have borne the brunt of our economic dislocation. We plan to establish an Office of Economic Recovery and Resilience to help guide people to available resources. In the next few weeks, we will be establishing a system to make sure we are doing everything we can to speed our recovery, while slowing county spending and cutting budgets.
Like you, we are anxious to get our community back to its usual rhythms. Baseball games, weddings, sunny days at the beach, a night out at a local restaurant, and the daily pleasures of being with family and friends: these are what we all miss. But until then, let’s stay disciplined, keep our social distance, and provide support to one another.
We will get through this. Together.
Dave Somers is the Snohomish County Executive. Nate Nehring is chairman of the Snohomish County Council.