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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Woodward reflects on personal impact, community response to coronavirus in S-R forum

Mayor Nadine Woodward speaks via video phone with Spokesman-Review reporter Adam Shanks on Thursday. (Northwest Passages)

Just a few months into office, Mayor Nadine Woodward has been tasked with leading the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But it’s taken a personal toll, as well.

Woodward’s father died just four weeks after she was sworn into office. After delivering her inaugural State of the City address, she picked up her mother and drove to the West Side to bury him.

“I was just learning the job,” Woodward said.

Just a few weeks later, coronavirus arrived at Spokane’s doorstep when four patients were transported to the special pathogens unit at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.

Now, Woodward’s mother, who has Parkinson’s disease, is one of the many in isolation, waiting out the spread of the virus and relying on her daughter to deliver groceries.

“My mom is alone for the first time in 60 years. She’s got Parkinson’s and I’m taking care of her,” Woodward said.

As strict social distancing measures necessary to slow the spread of coronavirus devastate the economy, Woodward and her husband have also seen the virus take a toll on their family business, Memories by Design.

“We’re trying to keep our employees working, and we’re going after all the grants and small business loans like everybody else,” Woodward said.

Woodward reflected on her experience at the city’s helm during a virtual forum with The Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages on Thursday.

Despite the hardship the virus has caused, Woodward holds a bright view of the city’s response, both from within city hall and local residents.

“We’ve all come together and we’re seeing some real positive things coming out of something so difficult to live through right now,” Woodward said. “That’s what’s inspiring to me, that’s what keeps me going.”

She recounted how Spokane Community Oriented Policing Services, or C.O.P.S., delivered her mother’s Parkinson’s medication straight to her mailbox.

“Those kinds of things where our community rises to the occasion – and it’s oftentimes the people who have the least to give who are the ones to give the most,” Woodward said.

Meals on Wheels is still finding ways to deliver meals to seniors, while the city’s schools are delivering meals to children who rely on them when school is in session.

“The effort going out to help people – that’s what we are, that’s who we are,” Woodward said.

Her administration’s primary focus in response to the virus has been to keep people stable. That’s why she signed an emergency declaration that prohibited all evictions and foreclosures, something she acknowledged has resulted in criticism from some property owners. She also suspended shutoffs for city utilities.

Conversations within City Hall are beginning to transition to long-term recovery plans.

“We’re going to have to come up with some way so that we can do more to help our small businesses,” Woodward said.

That help can be in the form of being an advocate. On Thursday, she signed a letter asking Gov. Jay Inslee to reduce restrictions on residential home builders during the pandemic.

“We have a housing crisis here … we need builders to build,” Woodward said.

To aid individuals long term, Woodward said she’ll work with the City Council on low-income housing policy. She’s also looking for opportunities to retrain employees negatively impacted by the economic downtown.

Woodward acknowledged that it’s unclear when things will begin to return to normal. Inslee’s statewide “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order is set to expire on May 4, but could be extended for a second time.

While the community is itching to return to normal – or at least a new normal – Woodward warned not to “compromise what we’ve done” and “risk having a second wave of COVID” through the community.

“That’s something that’s on everyone’s mind – making sure we don’t try to return to normal too soon,” Woodward said.

Woodward implored people feeling symptomatic to act as if they have COVID-19 and stay home, even if they can’t get tested. While warmer weather can encourage people to get out of the house, Woodward advised caution.

“I hope that they’re able to stay with those social distancing guidelines,” Woodward said. “I can’t stress how important that is … each one of us is a soldier in all of this, and that’s the one, most impactful thing we can do.”