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COVID-19

News >  Spokane

Spokane leaders want independent, regional plan to reopen. And they want to know if you agree.

UPDATED: Thu., April 23, 2020

The parking lot of Northtown Mall is seen nearly empty during what would be normal business hours on the first full day of the "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order on March 26, 2020. The city has launched an online poll to see whether people agree with its view that a local plan for reopening business is needed. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
The parking lot of Northtown Mall is seen nearly empty during what would be normal business hours on the first full day of the "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order on March 26, 2020. The city has launched an online poll to see whether people agree with its view that a local plan for reopening business is needed. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

Do you think Spokane should be allowed to relax restrictions imposed under the state’s stay -home order and reopen businesses at its own pace, independently from Western Washington?

Spokane leaders, who have already endorsed that position, want to know if the community agrees.

The city launched an online poll on Tuesday that asks Spokane residents to weigh in on the measures taken to stem the flow of the virus, and how and when they should be lifted.

The survey was distributed and promoted as regional leaders prepare a proposal to Gov. Jay Inslee to allow Eastern Washington to emerge from the standards under Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order on its own timeline.

In 11 questions, the poll asks for judgment on the state and local response to COVID-19 thus far, and the appropriate path moving forward.

“We’ve asked a lot of the community over the last few weeks, and that’s been done in the name of slowing the illness, so we need to hear back from the community about how it’s going,” said Brian Coddington, a city spokesman.

One question asks, “Should the Spokane area develop regional plans for reopening the economy based on local data?”

Another simply asks whether the respondent agrees that “the economy in Spokane County should have the option to return on a different timeline than that used by other parts of the state.”

“I’m always a little concerned when we come out with surveys like this that lead you down this path of ‘This is how I want you to answer,’ ” said Spokane City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, chairwoman of Spokane’s Public Safety and Community Health Committee.

But Coddington said those are the questions leaders receive regularly, from the media and viewers of the daily informational Facebook Live briefings hosted at the Emergency Operations Center.

The survey was not meant to be political but as a way to check in with the community, as leaders did by hosting a telephone town hall earlier this month, Coddington said. It is “informal” and was included in a regularly published COVID-19 newsletter.

“People are appreciative of the opportunity to have a voice and be engaged in the process,” Coddington said.

Spokane Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz said he was not consulted on the survey before it was released, but Coddington said it was reviewed by Spokane Regional Health District staff.

The survey “also presumed the people taking the survey were up on all the latest information and not just reacting on this base fear, that they were actually processing correct information before they gave their answer,” Kinnear said.

After Gov. Jay Inslee announced a vision for reopening the economy on Tuesday, local officials criticized its lack of clarity and said they’ll devise a plan of their own.

“There was not much detail, there was not much specificity, and that was very frustrating,” Spokane County Commission Chairman Al French said of Inslee’s plan.

Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order is set to expire May 4, but his actions beyond that depend on a number of factors that remain unsettled, including access to testing.

Mayor Nadine Woodward and other regional leaders are collaborating on a plan to rekindle the economy of Spokane, independent of what takes place on the West Side. Woodward noted local hospitals continue to have the capacity to absorb additional patients.

“We feel that we are in a position where we can be more flexible in how we open up our economy in Spokane,” Woodward said.

The plan would be based on “universal criteria,” and implemented in an orderly, methodical and phased way, Woodward added.

Kinnear questioned how feasible it would be to lift restrictions on Eastern Washington before those on the West Side.

“Our numbers are different, yes. However, unless you seal off Eastern Washington, people are coming back and forth from the West Side all the time,” Kinnear said. “What I would do if I lived in Seattle, I’d find a friend in Spokane and come over and visit.”

Woodward said leaders would look to Lutz to provide guidance on how to relax social distancing measures.

Nationally, social distancing measures have received broad support, and in a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, a majority of respondents expressed concern they would be lifted too soon.

Two new cases of COVID-19 were identified in Spokane County on Tuesday, bringing the total to 317 cases. Although lower than the peak in March, the number of new cases identified statewide remains at about 200 every day.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which compiles data on infections and projects the course of the disease, is forecasting the current social distancing measures could safely be relaxed in Washington state after May 26.

But that’s only if large-scale gatherings remain limited, if there is widespread access to testing, and adequate means to trace contacts of infected people and sufficient space to isolate them.

Those resources are not yet available, Lutz said in a press conference on Wednesday.

The UW forecasts do not distinguish between Eastern Washington and the West Side.

Hospitals in Spokane have not hit their capacity due to an influx in COVID-19 patients, although they had prepared for such a scenario. As of Tuesday, 61 people had been hospitalized with COVID-19 in Spokane County since the start of the outbreak, and 14 remained hospitalized.

Lutz thanked the community for its sacrifices on Wednesday.

“I truly believe your efforts have saved lives,” he said.

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