The council also probed city leaders on what theyre doing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
The council also probed city leaders on what they're doing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Lester Black

The Seattle City Council unanimously voted to approve an amended version of Mayor Jenny Durkan's Proclamation of Civil Emergency related to the coronavirus, or COVID-19, outbreak in a special meeting Thursday. They only made minor clarifying amendments to the proclamation.

On Tuesday, Durkan announced the proclamation in order to adequately deal with the COVID-19 outbreak and mobilize the city in response without jumping through bureaucratic hoops. According to Ketil Freeman, Seattle City Council central staff, "when there’s a civil emergency the council cedes power, so it is necessarily a trust-but-verify exercise for the council."

The last civil emergency was in the 2019 February snowstorm. Prior to that, ex-Mayor Ed Murray issued a Proclamation of Civil Emergency related to the homelessness crisis in 2015. The council must ratify these proclamations and can only vote to end them with a 2/3s majority vote.

Durkan announced her first action today: expanding tiny house villages and shelters throughout the region.

“We know we need to take additional measures to bring more of our unsheltered community inside," Durkan said in a statement on Thursday. "Our neighbors experiencing homelessness are at greater risk of exposure to COVID-19, and as a city, region, and country we must act with urgency to address the ongoing impacts of this public health crisis."

The current Lake Union Tiny House Village will expand by 20 units, a new tiny house village at Cherry Hill Church will have up to 30 units, and the former Evergreen Treatment Facility in Bitter Lake will have the capacity for 50 people.

The rest of the council's special meeting was comprised of a roundtable of deputy mayors and department heads from the city who updated the council on the city's response to the coronavirus outbreak. It was a lot more of what we already know: this is new and unprecedented, Seattle & King County Public Health is doing the best they can but all of the solutions and mitigation measures are happening in real-time, children are not severely affected, everyone really should be washing their hands a lot, and more.

One sticking point, however, was when the Office of Economic Development director Bobby Lee started talking about the impacts on small businesses. First, the hospitality industry has been "devastated," Lee said. Other small businesses will need "access to capital" as the outbreak continues. His office is looking into potential ways to relieve funding stresses on small businesses and is exploring putting laid-off workers in the city's dislocated workers program. Additionally, Congress passed $8 billion in funding for the coronavirus outbreak. Around $1 billion of that will be for small businesses.

"The challenging part," Lee told the council, "is the ability to get that money to local folks quickly." They will be looking for other forms of relief for struggling businesses while waiting for federal funds.

A lot of questions and uncertainties remain regarding the economic impact of the virus as the outbreak evolves and worsens, but what is clear is that Lee, and others, are expecting businesses to be hit hard.

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Some remaining questions that council had from today's meeting:

  • What is the total number of COVID-19 tests in the county?
  • Does the city, itself, have access to enough cleaning supplies?
  • The Navigation Team is distributing hygiene kits to the homeless—how many hygiene kits have they distributed? (Human Services Department interim director Jason Johnson did not know the answer to this.)
  • Who can initiate COVID-19 testing?
  • COVID-19 infections have leaped forward in King County as more testing has become available. The local death toll is up to 11 people. There are 70 confirmed cases in King County.