Camas and Washougal residents are facing a new reality this week as state and local governments ramp up efforts to help control the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by a novel coronavirus.
As of March 21, the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had reported 22,738 COVID-19 cases in the U.S., including more than 1,500 cases in Washington state and 288 deaths reported nationwide, with three deaths in Clark County.
On Friday, March 13, Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced that all public and private schools in the state, including those in the Camas and Washougal school districts, would close from March 17 to April 24 to help stem the spread of COVID-19.
On Sunday, March 15, the governor expanded COVID-19 protections throughout the state, temporarily closing in-person dining at restaurants; closing bars, entertainment and recreational facilities; and prohibiting gatherings of 50 or more people.
“The ban does not apply to grocery stores or pharmacies. Other retail outlets will have reduced occupancy,” the governor stated in a press release. “Restaurants will be allowed to provide take-out and delivery services, but no in-person dining will be permitted.”
A variety of Camas and Washougal restaurants and bars — including Washougal Coffee Company, the Sushi Joint and Alex Smokehouse, among others — posted signs on their doors Monday, March 16, to let their customers know that service will be limited delivery and to-go orders for the time being.
Washougal-based Skip The Trip Delivery, which delivers food from a variety of local restaurants to Camas and Washougal residents, is preparing for an increase in business.
“Skip The Trip Delivery knows how much of an impact this will have on a lot of our local restaurants and their staff,” a post on Skip the Trip Delivery’s Facebook page stated. “We are grateful that we will be able to help them continue to get business through our delivery service. Keep in mind you can always pre-order to ensure (that your food gets) to you at a specific time, and we have also now added the option to have a ‘no-contact’ delivery, allowing us to still deliver your order right to your front door step without any contact. Please continue to support your local restaurants and go to skipthetripdelivery.com to order.”
The Downtown Camas Association (DCA) has compiled information regarding takeout services at local restaurants, as well as links for businesses in downtown Camas that sell gift cards online (for shoppers to buy now and use later), as well as businesses that have online sales. For more information, visit the group’s Facebook site at facebook.com/downtowncamas.
“We will continue to ask our community to strongly support downtown businesses by buying gift cards and shopping online and using takeout and delivery (services),” said Carrie Schulstad, executive director of the DCA. “It is a very critical time, so we all need to work together to support each other.”
Gatherings of fewer than 50 people will be allowed, but only if the events meet public health criteria and adhere to social distancing guidelines.
“I know there will be significant economic impacts to all our communities, and we are looking at steps to help address those challenges,” Inslee stated.
Libraries, theater closed
Libraries also have closed throughout the county. Washougal Community Library, along with other Fort Vancouver Regional Library branches announced Friday, March 13, that it would remain closed through at least Sunday, March 29.
“During the next few weeks the district will take advantage of the closures to thoroughly clean all locations and to create plans on how to restart services as soon as possible,” a news release issued by FVRL reads. “The library is extending loan periods for those who have already checked out materials and are adjusting holds for materials accordingly. Digital resources such as electronic books and audiobooks, streaming movies and music, and online databases are also still available via the FVRL libraries’ website.”
Connie Urquhart, the director of the Camas Public Library, announced Monday, March 16, that the Camas library also would close “until further notice.”
“We have taken this difficult step out of concern for the health of our Camas residents,” Urquhart stated in a press release. “Evidence is compelling that limiting social contact can help reduce the potential for (COVID-19) to spread throughout our community. Direction from state and federal government supports this. We recognize the serious impact that this decision will have on all of us. We are studying ways to serve you remotely and will update you via our website and social media with details on that.”
The Liberty Theatre in downtown Camas also has been forced to close to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. In a statement sent Monday, March 16, Liberty Theatre owner Rand Thornsley stated that the historic theater had closed on Sunday, March 15, and would remain closed until receiving word from state authorities that theaters could reopen.
“I wish you all the best,” Thornsley stated. “Stay safe and be well.”
Port office closed, meeting cancelled
The Port of Camas-Washougal has announced that its administrative office will be closed to the public for the foreseeable future. The Port also cancelled its commissioners’ meeting scheduled for Wednesday, March 18.
“We have asked any employee who shows symptoms or who comes into contact with an infected individual to stay home and follow the Center for Disease Control guidelines to prevent the spread of the infection,” Ripp said. “Should an employee show symptoms or come in contact with an infected person, we plan to close and clean the entire office to ensure our community and employees are protected to the best extent possible.”
Washougal’s State of the Community event, scheduled to be held Wednesday, March 25 at The Black Pearl on the Columbia Event Center, will be rescheduled to a yet-to-be-determined date.
Washougal Mayor Molly Coston decided to postpone the event last week after receiving input from Washougal School District Superintendent Mary Templeton and Port of Camas-Washougal Chief Executive Officer David Ripp.
“In order to safeguard against the spread of the Covid-19 virus, I believe this is the right decision,” Ripp said. “I would rather be criticized for being overly cautious than not being (cautious enough).”
Coston, Templeton and Ripp were scheduled to be the event’s main speakers.
“We know there are going to be more serious consequences down the road, and we’re trying to make sure we protect the safety and good health of the community,” Coston said. “There was no urgent reason to have it (on March 25). We’re using an abundance of caution. Most people’s minds are not on the state of community right now. They’re on the state of the stock market and the health of their friends and family members.
“I had a gut feeling that there would continue to be more and more negative reports about how the virus is spreading,” she continued. “Mary and David and myself talked, and we decided to wait until we reach the apex of this and things start to settle down, then reevaluate. By then our messages might be quite different.”
Coston said that the event was expected to draw between 100 and 125 attendees.
“A lot of people (expected to attend) were in the vulnerable target age,” she said. “I’m over 60 years old myself. I don’t have a compromised immune system, but I could spread (the virus) to other people.”
According to an event notice posted to the three agencies’ Facebook pages last week, the event was to “highlight the exciting things happening around town from the city of Washougal, the Port of Camas-Washougal and Washougal School District.”
“It’s a great chance for the community to come together to talk about the wonderful things that are happening in Washougal,” Templeton said. “Molly, David and myself are eager to share the good news that each one of us is experiencing and how those good things will help the community rise.”
Schulstad told the Post-Record the DCA has canceled the upcoming First Friday event scheduled for Friday, April 3, but planned to reschedule for a later date.
The Camas High School drama department’s performance of “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” which was scheduled to begin Friday, March 13, has been postponed indefinitely.
“Due to the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus), we have to postpone our show to a further date. The proposed date will hopefully be sometime in May,” according to a post on the department’s Twitter page. “All tickets will be honored in the same seats on the potential performance date.”
Performances were originally scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on March 13-14 and March 19-21; and 2 p.m. performances on March 14 and March 21.