Mayor, police, fire and utilities talk how city is responding to COVID-19 during town hall

Mayor Ferrell and city partners talk pandemic updates, city and community functions during the outbreak.

Amid the uncertainty in the wake of a new way of life during the COVID-19 pandemic, Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell took to Facebook for a virtual town hall on Friday to discuss how the city is responding to the outbreak.

Ferrell and the city’s community partners updated the community about COVID-19 in Federal Way and the surrounding areas, what the city and other departments are doing to help prevent further spread, and what residents can expect over the coming months.

“I want to thank you for joining me in this unprecedented time in both our country and region,” he began the virtual meeting, before diving into the current state of Federal Way.

Ferrell was joined by South King Fire and Rescue Fire Chief Vic Pennington, Federal Way Police Chief Andy Hwang, Emergency Manager Ray Gross, and Lakehaven Water and Sewer manager John Bowman to give a fuller picture of where the city, utilities and services are at now.

“As of this morning,” Ferrell said during the March 20 town hall, “… In King County there are 693 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and there have been 60 deaths.”

Ferrell said while the city had been trying to get more accurate numbers as far as positive cases in the city of Federal Way itself, they were unable to do so as of the town hall event.

At a city level, Ferrell said that they are limiting walk-in services, though the city will still be working to provide help to residents who need it. For example, the Permitting Department is still going about their normal processes, but will not see any clients in person until the crisis has come to a close.

“I want to make it clear though,” he said. “City Hall is open and we are operating.”

Ferrell said it’s just about how the city is operating moving forward, and ensuring they are doing their utmost to prevent further spreading of COVID-19.

City staff are still providing inspections and code enforcement services, which Ferrell called a “vital service” to continue.

Ferrell also instructed all City Hall employees who can work from home to do so.

Similarly to the city, FWPD is also taking necessary steps to ensure officer and public safety during this crisis.

As Hwang said in a separate interview with the Mirror, “We are first responder s… we don’t get to stay home.”

So instead Hwang said they are taking extra precautions to stay safe on the job.

“We’re certainly operating with heightened attention … normal infectious disease protocol, because we are dealing with a virus that is very contagious,” he said.

Hwang said the department first focused on finding personal protection equipment for officers, as well as partnered with SKFR for training for the officers.

They have also closed the front lobby to minimize the spread of the virus, Hwang said, but there are still ways to get in touch with the department.

He said residents can still call 911 or the non-emergency dispatch.

Any meetings or briefings have been changed to virtual to decrease the chance of further spread.

Hwang also noted that if any resident calls 911, the call receiver will ask them if they have any sick members in their household or if they are sick, to better help the officers figure out the best way to proceed depending on the nature of the call.

“On non-emergency calls, officers will be reaching out to citizens by phone to take a phone report to limit contact,” he said.

The FWPD has also created a voluntary quarantine option for any staff that feel they may have been exposed to the virus.

“We are operating with heightened awareness to protect businesses in our community as many of them remain closed at this time,” Hwang said.

And like SKFR, Hwang said, officers do not get time off during this crisis; they are risking their own health and wellness to continue to serve the community.

“Our citizens need to know that our first responders … stand ready to respond to whatever we are called upon to protect our community.”

Pennington also spoke about the steps SKFR are taking to keep their staff and first responders safe and able to serve during this crisis, which the Mirror previously covered.

In response to decreasing the spread of COVID-19, Ferrell said the Federal Way Community Center, Dumas Bay, and the Performing Arts and Event Center are closed at least through March 31.

The Federal Way municipal Court has limited services during this time, but they are still open. Ferrell also said court proceedings are going to continue for cases such as domestic violence, DUIs and in-custody cases.

City Council meetings are also going to look different moving forward through this crisis.

“We have decided there will no longer be in-person comments accepted at any council or committee meetings,” he said.

Council members will be attending all meetings remotely, while city staff will be secured in council chambers to assist.

Residents are able to view the live meetings either through the city’s YouTube Channel, or through a live feed showing in the Hylebos Room, the conference room just outside the doors to the Council Chambers at City Hall.

They are still accepting written public comment, though, so if you would still like to submit a comment, it needs to be turned in to the city clerk’s office two hours before the meeting start time, Ferrell said.

In an effort to assure the community of continued utility services, Bowman said Lakehaven Water and Sewer is taking preventative measures to ensure their staff remain healthy through this pandemic.

In a separate interview with the Mirror, Bowman said they are screening employees before each new shift to try to prevent further spread of the virus.

He said that throughout this crisis, Lakehaven will continue to service the community, so there is no reason to fear any loss of running water, sewer services, etc.

During the town hall, Ferrell also addressed several pressing questions about the current state of business in the city, including options for business owners, information about restaurants that are delivering, and resources for anyone who may have questions or want more information.

The full virtual town hall can be watched on Ferrell’s Mayor Jim Ferrell Facebook page.