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Emergency Proclamation in Seattle Seeks to Stem Coronavirus Spread

The mayor’s proclamation was submitted to the council for confirmation, modification or rejection, and the council should act within 48 hours. The emergency will end when “extraordinary measures” are no longer required.

by Daniel Beekman, The Seattle Times / March 4, 2020

(TNS) — Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has issued a proclamation of civil emergency to help the city respond to the novel coronavirus outbreak, she said Tuesday, noting that King County Executive Dow Constantine made a similar declaration Monday.

Pending City Council approval, Durkan’s proclamation will give her special authority to address the threat to public health and safety, she said in a news release, describing her move as a “precautionary measure.”

Under the proclamation, the mayor would be able to bypass regulations and steps usually required for city spending, contracting, borrowing and temporary hiring. She could site facilities without permits and reviews usually required. And she would have the power to close city facilities and cancel events to prevent the spread of the virus.

Durkan didn’t announce any actions right away but she said she would in the coming days, in coordination with county and state public health authorities.

The mayor’s proclamation has been submitted to the council for confirmation, modification or rejection, and the council is supposed to act within 48 hours, Durkan spokeswoman Kelsey Nyland said. The emergency will be terminated when Durkan determines that “extraordinary measures are no longer required” or by council vote, the proclamation said.

“Because this is an evolving situation, we will continue to work in partnership with county and state officials to meet the immediate needs of our communities, especially vulnerable individuals and individuals experiencing homelessness,” the mayor said.

“As we prepare to take additional steps in Seattle, we know that our city will need additional resources and help from both our state and federal government,” she added. “For example, we are looking to our partners to increase the availability of testing in a way that does not overwhelm the health care system but meets the growing need.”

Durkan issued a directive Sunday telling Seattle departments to prioritize people experiencing homelessness and ensure proper communications with non-English speakers in the city’s response. Seattle is using an Emergency Operations Center to monitor the outbreak, share information and maintain basic services, the mayor said.

The city’s Department of Education and Early Learning is sending daily updates on the outbreak to preschools and child-care providers that use Seattle subsidies, according to a department-by department briefing. No preschools or child-care providers have closed to date.

Seattle’s Finance and Administrative Services department added more hand-sanitizing stations inside city buildings last month. Frequently-touched surfaces, such as elevator buttons and door handles, are being cleaned more often, according to Tuesday’s briefing.

The city’s Human Services Department is developing an action plan to manage COVID-19 impacts for people experiencing homelessness. That plan may include siting additional shelter beds and tiny houses, according to the briefing. Members of the Navigation Team that deals with unauthorized encampments are “distributing hygiene kits as available.” The department also is checking in with senior centers, many of which serve meals.

Office of Immigrant Affairs has been posting about the outbreak on social media in languages other than English and has sent information to 70 ethnic media outlets and 5,000 community leaders, according to Tuesday’s briefing.

Seattle Parks and Recreation has increased community-center and swimming-pool cleaning and plans to install hand-sanitizing stations in community center lobbies.

Seattle has been operating under a separate emergency since 2016, when then-Mayor Ed Murray issued a proclamation related to homelessness.

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©2020 The Seattle Times

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