Federal Way mayor declares state of emergency after further review of COVID-19 outbreak

Mayor said CHI Franciscan notified the city last week they were “expecting several positive COVID-19 test results in the next 24-hours at St. Francis” in Federal Way.

Editor’s Note: The Mirror has updated this story to reflect that Mayor Jim Ferrell signed a proclamation on Monday morning declaring a state of emergency after our initial story that stated he hadn’t decided to do so by the end of the business day on Friday, March 6.

Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell declared a state of emergency Monday morning, signing the proclamation and following suit of neighboring jurisdictions who took similar measures last week due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“In light of the developing situation, [the city] thought it would be legally prudent to issue the proclamation and make sure we’re doing everything we can as a city to ensure the safety of our community,” the mayor told the Mirror just minutes after signing the proclamation.

Ferrell said his decision was prompted by further review of the situation, and consultation with city emergency manager Ray Gross, Federal Way city attorney Ryan Call and the newly constituted outbreak advisory team.

Declaring a local state of emergency provides the city with the option to make emergency purchases without the need to go through the formal process. While the city is not contemplating any emergency purchases at the moment, Ferrell said he wanted to show his constituents the city is taking the situation — and their well-being — seriously.

The outbreak advisory team consists of department directors and other key staff members in a multi-disciplinary team to address all the issues that could potentially be impacted by COVID-19, Ferrell said. The team will be meeting every week and as necessary.

In addition to the declaration, Ferrell said the city has decided to cancel all non-mandatory meetings that occur at City Hall through March 31, which includes commission meetings and other larger group meetings, such as the upcoming all-city staff meeting scheduled for March 24.

This decision excludes City Council and committee meetings, although staff will be communicating with council about the possibility of accomplishing committee meetings virtually. The March 17 council meeting will be held as scheduled.

Ferrell said the widespread nature of the outbreak throughout the country, combined with the actions taken by regional partners and the state government, prompted him to declare a state of emergency. His staff on March 6 had told the Mirror that the mayor believed their was no need to declare an emergency at that time.

“The mayor believes there’s no need to do that now,” Tyler Hemstreet, the city’s communications coordinator, told the Mirror on March 6. “We would be taking all those cues from Public Health … The situation would have to be a lot more dire than it is now for us to do that,” Tyler Hemstreet, the city’s communications coordinator, told the Mirror on March 6.

Hemstreet said on March 6 the mayor would declare a state of emergency if he needed purchasing power.

“Ultimately the only gain to doing that (declaring an emergency) would be to gain power over the purchasing protocols if we needed something to deal with the outbreak that we would have to go to the council to get approved for first or go out to bid,” Hemstreet said.

Or if the city needs to pay Parks Department employees overtime, for example, the city wouldn’t have to negotiate with the union, he added.

So far, King County Public Health has confirmed one woman in Federal Way tested positive for the virus following her return from South Korea. In addition, Ferrell said during an update to the City Council on Tuesday night that there could likely be more positive coronavirus cases in Federal Way.

CHI Franciscan provided the city with a “heads up” that they are “expecting several positive COVID-19 test results in the next 24-hours at St. Francis,” Ferrell said at the March 3 meeting. This information was provided to the mayor by Ray Gross, Federal Way city emergency manager, Ferrell said.

A King County Public Health spokesperson told the Mirror as they see more community transmission, they expect to see patients in all hospitals. The spokesperson told the Mirror to reach out to St. Francis for specific case information about their hospital.

However, a St. Francis spokesperson declined to provide any information to the Mirror regarding whether any of their patients have tested positive for the virus and said to check with Public Health.

The mayor did not have any updates on Monday morning about the potential positive cases at St. Francis.

Ferrell shared at the March 3 meeting that the novel coronavirus situation is “changing daily, if not hourly.”

While the mayor declared a state of emergency, he has not activated the city’s Emergency Operations Center yet as the EOC leadership does not think that it is necessary to do so yet, Ferrell said.

The EOC would open when resource management, information management and policy discussion is needed, such as the February 2019 snowmageddon.

Meanwhile, at least nine of the 39 cities throughout the county issued a proclamation of civil emergency and activated their emergency operations centers last week, including the city of Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus’s declaration on March 5 and Renton Mayor Armondo Pavone declared a state of emergency on March 6.

At the moment, Hemstreet said there is no issue with resource management or policy questions, therefore there is not a need to open the the emergency center in Federal Way.

He pointed to the city of Redmond as an example of a jurisdiction that needs help with resource management. Redmond Mayor Angela Birney declared a proclamation of local emergency on March 2, as seven Redmond fire medics and one Redmond police officer were quarantined after being exposed to the coronavirus.

Hemstreet noted that as Ferrell weighs whether to activate Federal Way’s EOC, he has spoken with mayors in other jurisdictions.

The center in Federal Way is operated by the city’s emergency manager, the mayor and designated staff, along with staff from Federal Way Police, South King Fire and Rescue, city Public Works, Parks, legal and public information officers.

In some cases, additional management may include staff from Lakehaven Water Sewer District, the Federal Way Public Schools district and St. Francis Hospital.

Volunteers from the Amateur Radio Club and the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) also help in a crisis situation.

“The primary purpose of the EOC is to manage limited resources, gain situational awareness, establish priorities of response, start recovery planning, establish joint policy, conduct unified information release,” according to Hemstreet.