Mayor Jenny Durkan ordered Seattle’s libraries, community centers and playgrounds to remain closed through at least the end of June, as the region continues to haltingly reopen from coronavirus shutdowns.
Durkan also extended the ban on all permitted events in the city (except farmers markets) even as large, unpermitted protests have become a daily fact of life in Seattle. Durkan herself is scheduled to speak at such an event on Friday, in observance of Juneteenth, along with several other elected officials. And a Juneteenth march is expected to draw thousands of people.
Local officials have attempted to walk a tightrope in recent weeks, supportive of the protests but also wary that they could lead to larger outbreaks of COVID-19.
“The City extended the ban on permitted events in an effort to encourage residents to practice social distancing and avoid gathering,” Durkan spokeswoman Kelsey Nyland said. “At the same time, we’re experiencing a citywide, and nationwide, reckoning with police violence and systemic racism, and we are committed to allowing opportunities for residents to come together and mourn, express anger, and build community.”
She said the city would not enforce permitting requirements for gatherings and demonstrations focused on police violence and systemic racism.
Durkan’s executive order, issued Thursday, also extends coronavirus relief policies that have been in place for months: an eviction moratorium, rent relief for tenants, flexible payment plans for utilities and a suspension of paid parking requirements.
All Seattle public libraries will remain closed through at least the end of June, although select sites will be open for restroom access. Community centers, playgrounds, athletic fields, swimming areas at beaches and public pools will also remain off limits. Parking lots at the city’s biggest parks will remain closed.
The extended closures come amid mass protests over police brutality and structural racism, with thousands of people in close, outdoor gatherings. They also come as King County has applied to move to Phase 2 of the state’s four-phase reopening plan, which would allow limited restaurant dining and retail business activity, but would continue to ban almost all gatherings.
Public Health ⚊ Seattle & King County wrote last week that it was “concerned about the possible spread of COVID-19 at these large gatherings,” while also providing tips for protesters, including wearing face masks and carrying sanitizer.
But several of the tips ⚊ try to maintian 6 feet of space and avoid shouting or chanting ⚊ have been all but impossible at many protests.
The King County Board of Health has also voiced its support for the protests, declaring racism a public health crisis.
“We can’t let COVID-19 distract from our resolve,” Patty Hayes, the health department’s director said earlier this month.
King County Councilmember Joe McDermott, chair of the Board of Health, said that we need to continue to respond to COVID-19 with the best public health advice, but that the current protests are speaking in “stronger voices than this country has ever seen before.”
“We must respond to that,” McDermott said. “We have two pandemics coinciding at the same time, one is now and one has roots in 400 years of oppression in our country.”
King County has not seen a substantial uptick in reported COVID-19 cases since the protests began.
“Right now, our city and country are facing the crises of a nationwide civil rights movement to reckon with police violence and systemic racism, a global COVID-19 pandemic, and job losses and economic devastation not seen since the Great Depression,” Durkan said in a prepared statement. “In Seattle, even as communities protest, heal, and work to find a path forward together, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and job losses cannot be ignored.”