Gov. Jay Inslee to ban large gatherings in three Washington counties

Clark County isn’t on the list yet, but local business owners say they’re still feeling the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak

CLARK COUNTY — At a press conference this morning, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to announce a ban on any gathering or event with attendance of more than 250 people in Snohomish, Pierce, and King County.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is shown here at a press conference in March. Photo courtesy Gov. Jay Inslee’s office
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is shown here at a press conference in March. Photo courtesy Gov. Jay Inslee’s office

Those three counties have seen the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, and two dozen deaths blamed on the virus, most of them at a single Kirkland nursing home.

Asked on Tuesday if a ban was coming, Inslee said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if it happened in the next couple of days.

While the ban won’t currently be in effect for Clark County, where there remains only one confirmed case of COVID-19, the Port of Vancouver on Tuesday announced that they will be canceling two upcoming events out of concerns over the novel coronavirus.

“It goes without saying that the safety of our staff and those we come in contact with are of utmost importance to us,” said port CEO Julianna Marler in a statement. “Following the advice of health care professionals we must take steps to minimize exposure to the virus to keep our staff, families and community safe.”

A discarded mask outside Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center. Photo by Mike Schultz
A discarded mask outside Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center. Photo by Mike Schultz

The postponed events include a lecture scheduled for Mon., March 16, and a public tour set for Thursday of next week. The port said it will monitor the outbreak to determine if future events need to be canceled or postponed. 

Fort Vancouver Regional Library on Tuesday announced they would be canceling all public programs, outreach visits, and bookmobile stops starting March 13 through at least March 27.

“We based our decision on the Washington State Department of Health’s recommendations for mass gatherings,” wrote Amelia Shelley, the library’s executive director in a letter on the library’s website. “Our interest is to continue serving your library needs while maintaining the safety and health of our staff and the public.”

Shelley said library employees are working to frequently clean counters, keyboards, and entries, as well as making hand sanitizer and wipes available at all locations. Patrols are also encouraged to maintain a distance of 4 to 6 feet in order to avoid transmission of the virus.

Camas Public Library has also canceled all public events through the end of the month.

The city of Vancouver has also announced that the March 26 State of the City address by Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle will be online only. The video presentation will be available on the city’s Facebook page, CVTV, Instagram and Twitter, starting at 5 p.m.

Local businesses suffering

While stores like Costco, Wal-Mart, and Fred Meyer are having trouble keeping many items on the shelves, other businesses say the fear over coronavirus has them wondering if they’ll survive the outbreak.

Brush Prairie General Store owner Hak Kim says fear of the coronavirus has kept many of their regular customers away. Photo by Chris Brown
Brush Prairie General Store owner Hak Kim says fear of the coronavirus has kept many of their regular customers away. Photo by Chris Brown

At the Brush Prairie General Store, which has been in business for nearly 100 years, owner Hak Kim said they usually see things pick up in February. This year, with the virus keeping a lot of people at home, things have been slow.

“This Coronavirus scare is starting to hurt our sales at the General Store,” Kim wrote in a post on their Facebook page. “It will probably get worse. Our bills will still continue. We are looking for alternate ways for your continued support.”

Hak Kim has owned Brush Prairie General Store for 32 years. He says they could be out of business within a month if fear of the coronavirus continues to keep people away. Photo by Chris Brown
Hak Kim has owned Brush Prairie General Store for 32 years. He says they could be out of business within a month if fear of the coronavirus continues to keep people away. Photo by Chris Brown

He says that could even include delivering groceries to customers’ homes, or bringing them out to the car if they’re worried about getting out.

The store has been run by Kim for 32 years, along with his mother and sister. If things don’t pick up, he says, he could be out of business within a month.

“I don’t have any backup plan,” he says.

Kim adds cleanliness is something they’ve always taken seriously, including disinfecting door handles, counters, and the credit card machine at least twice a day.

Tria Potts is a long-time customer and showed up to buy her favorite coffee drink after seeing the post online.

“I want to support them, and I want to help them stay open,” says Potts, “so here I am.”

The building, a relic of the old west, features walls covered in community notices, photos of school sports teams, and signed volleyballs. Most customers who come in are on a first-name basis.

“If it leaves, I’ll be devastated,” says Potts, “because it’s part of Brush Prairie.”

Other businesses are also adapting in hopes of surviving the outbreak. A Clark County caterer, who wished to remain anonymous, said she hasn’t had any customers cancel yet, but she has had to alter her policy for cancellations.

“What I’m finding is, if we’re not willing to give on our cancellation policy, they’re not going to book the event with us,” she says.

So, rather than having a non-refundable deposit, she has allowed customers the option to cancel up to three days before the event. Should the ban on large gatherings extend to Clark County, she says, customers can cancel without penalty.

Already, she has catered weddings where 250 guests were expected, only to have far fewer people show up. All of this uncertainty trickles down the food chain as well. Instead of ordering new equipment in preparation for the busy Summer season, they’re choosing to prioritize being able to pay full-time employees.

If events are canceled, and her other major source of income — backstage catering for rock concerts — dries up, she estimates they could continue to pay employees for up to four months.

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About The Author

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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