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Testing, testing, testing: At forefront of U.S. cities responding to COVID-19 crisis, here’s what Seattle’s mayor talked about in her first ‘virtual town hall’

A mobile COVID-19 testing clinic Friday on 14th Ave

Pounded early by COVID-19, the Seattle area has found itself an early indicator of what is to come in big cities across the country. Last week, the city’s mayor focused on Central Seattle including Capitol Hill and the Central District as part of what her office said will be a series of “virtual town halls” in neighborhoods across the city to talk with residents and try to connect communities with needed city resources.

Testing and the resources needed to bolster the effort were at the center of Jenny Durkan’s conversation as the Seattle mayor made it clear Thursday that the city does not have enough testing capability to tackle COVID-19 and likely will not have that capacity for a long time, weeks into a pandemic that has more than 5,500 cases across the county and has killed nearly 400. The city’s potential $300 million hole in its budget, of course, was also on the minds of Durkan’s citizens.

“There is not adequate testing and I wish I could tell you that that’s gonna happen soon. We don’t know when it’s gonna happen,” she said in the virtual town hall, noting the state is pushing for access to “millions of test kits.”


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CHS reported over the weekend on widely followed models showing the state and Seattle area COVID-19 infection rate continues to fall but is far from levels where it would be safe to fully lift distancing restrictions until a major increase in testing and contact tracing capabilities is put in place. Friday, CHS reported on the way much testing continues to play out in Seattle — a community drive-thru testing clinic put in place to try to stamp out an outbreak related to four deaths in the Central Area senior community.

Durkan Thursday laid out the issue with the city’s lack of resources, saying “without the testing, not only are we still flying blind, but we know we can’t reopen our economy if we don’t have the ability to see if the virus starts to rise and then to do what you need to do to contain it.”

“And then we’ll not only be right back where we are today, we’ll be in a worse place,” she added.

Durkan said the only way to get enough testing long-term is if President Donald Trump uses executive powers to require companies to manufacture testing kits.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s plan to eventually and gradually reopen the state hinges on a massive uptick in testing, while health officials reported less than 3,000 tests on Tuesday, for example. Durkan added that the state would be further along in protecting long-term care facilities where the virus can spread rapidly among vulnerable populations with widespread testing, as well.

On top of testing, Durkan noted researchers expect increases in cases of the novel coronavirus in the coming months, so the city also needs to have ample personal protective equipment available when the time comes, instead of relying on people sewing surgical masks for hospital workers.

During the approximately 40-minute town hall for central Seattle community members, Durkan also discussed a range of COVID-19 topics from rental assistance to its effect on the city’s budget.

Council member Kshama Sawant representing Capitol Hill and the Central District has been vocal in calling for a statewide freeze on rent and mortgage payments and is organizing a “rent strike” to pressure lawmakers and landlords to acquiesce to these demands.

A rental assistance collaboration between the city and United Way of King County (UWKC) had “several million dollars in funding” to help locals at the beginning of April, but Durkan said “we know it’s not enough.” She said they are working to “augment” this program with additional federal dollars.

The application process for renters to tap this fund open to King County residents financially impacted by COVID-19 has been paused due to high demand, according to UWKC.

Durkan announced last week that COVID-19 could cause a budget shortfall of between $210 million and $300 million in tax revenue for the city this year, putting Seattle on the backfoot as it tries to fill these gaps with federal dollars and other funds while also spending millions in unexpected expenditures during the emergency.

Durkan said Thursday she is working on how to operate as a city with this deficit without cutting services and some of the surprise payments the city has had to make will likely be reimbursed by the federal government.

Responding to a question on arts in the area, Durkan cited the city’s efforts to give grants to artists and performers during the crisis and said “the Central District in particular has some just amazing art and artists that has burgeoned again in the last several years and we’ve got to make sure that we don’t slip backwards and lose that vibrancy from our city.”

Like officials across the state, Durkan implored central Seattle residents to stay home and threatened that “crowded parks, unfortunately, will become closed parks.” That being said, she still voiced hope that things will return to normalcy. When that might be, she noted, is another question, however.

“I am 100% confident that our city is going to get through this and we can get through it together, that there will be a time again when we are a vibrant community where people come together and have a vibrant economic base in this city,” Durkan said. “But it is going to take some time to [get] there.”

Details of Durkan’s next town in the “weekly” series have not yet been announced.

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Nope
Nope
7 months ago

First let’s do the property tax strike, that would free up enough landlord money to give a month or two free rent, It would also focus the minds of our council when they had to take pay cuts…

Bob Knudson
Bob Knudson
6 months ago
Reply to  Nope

And exactly how do you propose that needed services by Seattle and King County will continue without the property tax revenue?

CapHillEscapee
CapHillEscapee
7 months ago

We must do whatever is necessary to stop the spread of a heinous virus that kills a small number of older, already-unhealthy people.

2decadescaphill
2decadescaphill
7 months ago
Reply to  CapHillEscapee

Sociopathic irony. You too will be old and unhealthy at some point. No really, you will be.

Rain Worshipper
Rain Worshipper
6 months ago
Reply to  CapHillEscapee

The virus is also killing young healthy people, and ALL LIVES MATTER. Plus which, it’s not a small number.