There are now four cases confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the San Juan Islands as of the morning of March 30, according to San Juan County health officials. Along with the cases came new restrictions both county, state and nationwide.
“We’re on the beginning of a very steep upward slope,” San Juan County Health Officer Dr. Frank James said during an emergency Board of Health meeting on March 25. “We’re going to see a steady growth of cases very precipitously over the next few weeks.”
The first two cases in the islands originated on Orcas, both from within the same household. The first was confirmed on March 20 and the second on March 24. The third case is a patient on Lopez, which was confirmed on March 26, and the fourth is a San Juan Island patient announced over the weekend.
Gov. Jay Inslee issued a two-week order titled “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” on March 23, which went into effect on March 25. Following previous requests for Washington residents to practice social distancing and to limit gatherings, Inslee introduced more strict measures to ensure compliance.
“The less time we spend in public, the more lives we will save,” Inslee said in a press release.
The order requires every Washingtonian to stay home unless they need to pursue an essential activity; bans all gatherings for social, spiritual and recreational purposes; and closes all businesses except for those deemed essential — such as grocery stores and pharmacies.
On March 25, James issued an order to restrict non-essential travel to San Juan County, control contact with playgrounds and playground equipment and limit transient accommodations and camping effective immediately.
“This order is necessary to control and prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in San Juan County. This order has been made to protect all citizens but especially our most vulnerable islanders,” James said in a press release regarding the order. “This was an extremely difficult decision and one I do not take lightly. This will impact many of our local businesses and our islands’ residents.”
The order is set to expire on April 30, but will be revisited on April 6 — the proposed end of Gov. Jay Inslee’s social distancing measures — and could be extended if needed.
Transient accommodations prohibited by the order include hotels, bed and breakfasts, vacation rentals, transient mooring and airport camping. Nothing in the order requires the removal of people who were already guests at the transient accommodations or camping facilities. It also closes playgrounds and prohibits group activities in the county’s parks.
James said that notices will need to be placed at locations around the county where people enter the islands — the ferry, marinas and airports. The restrictions do not apply to people who are using lodging in support of essential services, like construction workers.
James said the restrictions will likely be in place for four to six weeks, adding that social distancing lowers the peak but extends the outbreak’s longevity.
“I fully expect that we will be at least that long, if not longer,” James said. “I’m fully aware of the financial impact and the consequence on people’s lives. It’s something that would cause economic hardship for many people. … We have to balance that economic hardship … against saving lives.”
For up-to-date information on San Juan County’s response to the pandemic, visit www.sjccovid.com.
“Health and safety have to come first — they have to be the priority,” James said to the Board of Health.
National news update
On the other side of the country, President Donald Trump signed a bipartisan $2 trillion economic plan on March 27 to help stimulate the economy while coronavirus continues to spread. On March 29, Trump extended his suggested 15 days of social distancing to end on April 30. It was originally set to expire on March 30.
Included in the stimulus plan are payments of $1,200 to most American citizens; expanded unemployment benefits to include previously ineligible applicants such as self-employed and part-time workers; student loan payment suspensions until Sept. 30; and more.
According to a press release from Inslee’s office, the following estimated allocations are defined for Washington state in the package: $1.624 billion and $1.329 billion to local governments for coronavirus relief; $58.2 million will go toward childcare in the state; $11.8 million will go toward community services block grants; $11.1 million toward the state’s low-income energy assistance program; $56.6 million for the Education Stabilization Fund; $216.9 million for Elementary and Secondary Education statewide; and ensuring tens of thousands of workers at the Hanford Nuclear Site and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory who cannot telework will continue to receive pay.
“Our state welcomes this critically needed support, as we continue to face down an unprecedented crisis. … However, we also know it is not enough,” Inslee said in a March 27 statement about the stimulus package. “There’s no question more help will be needed in the coming months to address the harsh economic realities of this moment. … This bill does not solve those longer-term challenges.”