We’re living in difficult, stressful times. In mid-February, I was grappling with all the “normal” problems in City government. Several business trips were on the calendar, and I worried about having enough time to meet future obligations. As I write this, those trips have all been canceled and we’re faced with very different challenges. Those “old” challenges have been pushed into the background. Schools are closed for the year, leaving seniors without the opportunity for the traditional recognition of their scholastic and athletic accomplishments. Businesses have closed and employees have been furloughed or laid off. The little things that we took for granted we now miss so much – having lunch with friends, hiking in a state park, visiting elderly parents, a haircut.
It’s been well over a month since we stood up the City’s Emergency Operations Center in response to the spreading virus and declared a local state of emergency. Our objective was to sustain city services as much as possible while guarding the health and safety of the public we serve and of our own employees. This required an investment in personal protective equipment and many changes in procedure. We’ve had to close the senior center, community pool, and libraries, as well as curtail operations at City Hall, the police department, fire department, parks and public works departments, and the municipal court. City Hall has remained open to customers with appointments and to staff as we continue providing the services we can. Many employees began working from home.
Around the world, coronavirus is commanding everyone’s attention, with deep concerns for public health and effects on business and politics. Powerful minds are engaged, along with significant resources, to contain and defeat the virus. We know how to detect it and testing is picking up. Statewide data indicate that we’ve probably reached peak infection, due to the control and isolation measures that have been adopted, and the number of cases diagnosed every day is decreasing. Most coronavirus cases are mild, though that’s also a concern because people can potentially spread the disease without knowing that they’re doing so. Many more people have recovered from the disease than have died from it, and that proportion is increasing. Vaccine prototypes have been developed in the quest to help prevent future spread of the disease, and anti-viral trials are underway to help improve the treatment of people who are already sick.
All of this is good news, but the economic impact of stay-at-home restrictions is devastating, and small businesses and their employees are suffering immensely. We implemented a Small Business Emergency Loan Program, but those funds were quickly used. Several rounds of federal stimulus packages have attempted to help, but we won’t be able to truly ease the suffering until we can get our economy underway again. People need to be safe from the virus and they need to be able to provide for themselves and their families. Selecting just one of these options is not realistic. Policymakers are sailing through uncharted waters and having to adjust course as they go …using innovation and their best judgement. We’re preparing to enter the first of three phases outlined by the Governor’s “Framework for Reopening Oregon” as we work toward resuming normal operations. When we reach the third phase, it’ll be a “new normal”. Much will have changed, but our mission, “Providing quality public services for a better Albany community,” and our values will endure.
The power of community is stronger than any virus. I join all of you who have expressed your great appreciation for the grocery store clerks, healthcare providers, and sanitation workers whose service makes us realize that our community depends upon their hard work. We can and we will get through this together. Difficult times can divide people and societies; but they can bring out the best in us if we remember that we’re not separate individuals, guarding our own little piece of the world, but are connected to each other and we share this city and our common humanity. We'll get through this, working together, and in time we’ll be telling stories about our resilience.
Julie and I love our city and wish you safety, good health, and peace in the midst of crisis.