Strict measures to fight Coronavirus will impact business
— Created March 18, 2020 by Kathy Reed
By Kathy Reed
Gov. Jay Inslee has enacted strict new measures to help minimize, or at least slow, the spread of the Novel Coronavirus COVID-19.
As many know, Monday Inslee announced all restaurants, bars, entertainment and recreational facilities will be closed until the end of the month and he imposed more limits on large gatherings, capping them at no more than 50 people and then only if strict public health and social distancing directives are met.
Grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open, and restaurants are allowed to provide take-out, delivery and drive-thru options. The closure includes theaters, bowling alleys, gyms and fitness centers, barbers, hair and nail salons, tattoo parlors, museums and art galleries. Health officials also recommend those over age 60 home isolate and limit their exposure to public settings.
The impact of these closures affects everyone. Whidbey Island is no exception. Shortly after the governor’s action Monday the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce announced the cancellation of the Holland Happening Parade and Festival – an event that has taen place for more than 50 years. In Langley, the annual Welcome the Whales Festival and Parade set for mid-April has been cancelled; organizers are looking for alternative activities, depending upon the length of the restrictions on public gatherings, etc.
Restrictions on recreational activities aside, these measures could have a huge impact on local businesses and employees, and people are understandably concerned.
“I have heard a LOT of concern from business owners about how this will negatively impact their businesses across the board, not just lodging and restaurants,” said Miranda Hoppock, Oak Harbor Chamber executive director. “Some businesses may not be able to financially survive the closure impacts that have been put forth by elected officials. We at the chamber are sharing any creative ideas to assist, serve and promote businesses in our area to try to minimize the impacts as much as possible.”
“The COVID-19 spread is going to create a difficult situation for all small businesses everywhere,” said Hayley Samford, executive director of the Oak Harbor Main Street Association. “Last week we began preparing a list of changes businesses are making to continue to serve the community. So far, we are noticing an increase of businesses offering curb-side pickup, delivery, or online ordering. There are several businesses that will be forced to limit their hours or close for the time being.”
OHMSA has added a new page to its website which lists businesses operating with limited hours, closures or online options. Find it at www.oakharbormainstreet.org/supportlocal. Samford said the page will be updated daily.
One local business began feeling the effects of the virus crisis a few weeks ago. Whidbey SeaTac Shuttle and Charter owner D’Arcy Morgan said COVID-19 has had a devastating impact.
“We are part of the air travel industry, and with Department of Defense travel restrictions and travel guidance by public health entities, our ridership has been reduced by 45 percent within three weeks,” he said.
Morgan said the company has planned and implemented prevention measures since the initial viral outbreak in China.
“Our response includes modifying our shuttle run schedule to best serve Whidbey Island communities and if more rigorous national travel or public health restrictions occur, we will adjust accordingly,” he said. “For our employees, self-care and prevention has been our goal from the onset. We immediately instituted washing of hands often, avoiding touching the face, social distancing practices, covering coughs and sneezes and especially staying at home if you feel ill. In addition, working with public health, we’ve established contingencies for numerous scenarios including ill passengers, employees and/or heightened community outbreaks.”
Whidbey SeaTac Shuttle carries an average of 68,000 passengers per year, which translates to 3,300 trips between Whidbey Island and SeaTac Airport. The company has adjusted its schedule from 24 hours a day, seven days a week to 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily and the shuttle schedule is being modified as well, going from 11 shuttle runs daily to just five. It has already begun working with WorkSource, in the event any of its 44 employees are displaced.
“First and foremost, we care about safety and maintaining the highest level of customer service for our passengers and their families,” Morgan said. “This has been a company-wide response to the current situation and I am proud of each and every one of our employees and vendors stepping up to help.”
According to Hoppock, a number of local businesses are coming forward with creative ideas to continue serving their customers and help preserve their business. While out of the norm for some, many restaurants in Coupeville, Langley and Oak Harbor are offering take-out and delivery options while dining rooms are closed, such as Useless Bay Coffee in Langley, which posted this update on Facebook:
“We are still roasting certified organic coffee and are keeping the Star Store fully stocked,” the notice reads. “Our website will offer free home coffee bean deliveries to the following zip codes: 98260, 98236, 98249. Additionally, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will call you back to arrange placing orders and home delivery.”
Customers can also order from the company’s website. The local coffee spot will also use its kitchen during this time to provide food production for local community service organizations. Island Chambers of Commerce and Main Street Organizations are posting lists of restaurants and businesses offering delivery and take-out services. Plus, other businesses are creating unique ways to keep things going during the COVID-19 restrictions.
“Candlewood Inn & Suites has put out a ‘Staycation’ special, where if you are feeling some cabin fever you can have an overnight stay there for a reduced price,” Hoppock said. “And Paint Your World [while closed], will offer pick up paint and go and deliveries to paint at home.
“I would recommend purchasing as much as you can locally through small business owners,” she continued. “Now that you are spending a lot of time at home and need to be finding something to do at home with your children, look to our local businesses for creative ideas and materials to keep kids entertained.”
For those who are out shopping for necessary goods and services, business owners are doing all they can to ensure their own health and safety as well as their customers’.
“Our retail environments are being kept scrupulously clean,” Inge Morascini, executive director of the Langley Chamber of Commerce, wrote on Facebook. “If your favorite retailer is closed, please email or call – most live nearby and can arrange to provide product via delivery or mail…check to see if their hours have changed.”
“There are many ways that the community can support small businesses without leaving the comfort of their cars or homes,” Samford said. “We would like to encourage readers to buy gift cards to their favorite stores, order via phone for a curbside pickup (at retail and restaurants), order delivery, ask for items to be shipped to homes, or ask your favorite stores how you can support them.”
“As we navigate through the COVID-19 crisis, our goals are simple – keep everyone safe and through smart business practices, weather the economic storm our country is going through,” said Morgan.
The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Island County stood at 11 as of press time Tuesday. For the latest information on the pandemic locally, visit www.islandcounty.wa.gov; find more information on the situation in Washington state at www.doh.wa.gov.
To keep track of what’s going on in the local business community, visit oakharborchamber.com, coupevillechamber.com, visitlangley.com, oakharbormainstreet.org, langleymainstreet.org or coupevillehistoricwaterfront.com.
SBA Loans Available
The U.S. Small Business Administration has also announced it will make low-interest loans available to businesses which have been harmed substantially by the COVID-19 crisis. Island County is included in this action.
Applicants may apply online, receive additional disaster assistance information and download applications at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. Applicants may also call SBA’s Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 or email email@example.com for more information on SBA disaster assistance. Individuals who are deaf or hard‑of‑hearing may call 800-877-8339. Completed applications should be mailed to U.S. Small Business Administration, Processing and Disbursement Center, 14925 Kingsport Road, Fort Worth, TX 76155.
Blue Fox still open!
Blue Fox Drive In has learned it does not have close due to COVID-19 restrictions. The arcade and go-karts will be closed, and the snack bar will be open for take-out purchases, but the movies will continue. Features will begin at 7 p.m. daily. https://www.bluefoxdrivein.com/