NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, May 9th, 2020

The Pandemic is Personal: Sedro-Woolley’s Germaine Kornegay on small town resilience

Editor’s note: Wel­come to The Pan­dem­ic is Per­son­al, a week­ly series focus­ing on on how the nov­el coro­n­avirus (SARS-CoV­‑2) is affect­ing the every­day lives of peo­ple through­out the Pacif­ic North­west. We hope to enlight­en you and reflect on what you and oth­ers are address­ing as this pan­dem­ic runs its course. If you have a sto­ry to tell, please feel free to con­tact us.

Germaine Kornegay

Sedro-Wool­ley Coun­cilmem­ber Ger­maine Korne­gay (Cour­tesy photo)

In this install­ment, we’ll hear from Ger­maine Korne­gay. Orig­i­nal­ly from Philadel­phia, Ger­maine has been a small busi­ness own­er for twen­ty-four years and a mem­ber of the Sedro-Wool­ley City Coun­cil since 2014. She has been a Domes­tic Vio­lence and Sex­u­al Assault Advo­cate for Skag­it Coun­ty, an advo­cate at the Oasis Teen Shel­ter, a coun­selor at the local Boys and Girls Club, and a “gen­tle­la­dy farmer” who has raised chick­ens for ten years.

In Wash­ing­ton State’s Skag­it Coun­ty, where the pop­u­la­tion is just over 129,000, we’ve recent­ly opened up our first dri­ve-through test­ing site.

Our Skag­it Coun­ty Pub­lic Health Depart­ment has been keep­ing us updat­ed on cas­es, hos­pi­tal­iza­tions and deaths. We had a local choir group who met after a rehearsal and twen­ty days lat­er, two were dead and twen­ty-eight of forty-five present test­ed pos­i­tive for COVID-19. They took all of the pre­cau­tions known at the time, but were unaware of the virus spread­ing through droplets in the air.

It’s grim, but our com­mu­ni­ty is resilient. I learned that after the Cas­cade Mall shoot­ing four years ago. Here in Skag­it Coun­ty, we are a tight-knit com­mu­ni­ty of small towns, so our local net­work helps one anoth­er in so many ways.

A Skagit Valley sunset

Snow Geese pass­ing in front of Mount Bak­er in the Skag­it Val­ley (Pho­to: Eric Elling­son, repro­duced under a Cre­ative Com­mons license)

Our prin­ci­pal coun­ty food bank, Help­ing Hands in Sedro-Wool­ley, is our pride and joy. Help­ing Hands typ­i­cal­ly sup­plies oth­er local food banks through­out Skag­it Coun­ty, but they are now all closed, bring­ing all clients in the area to Help­ing Hands.

With the new phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing require­ments and a dou­bling of nor­mal dis­tri­b­u­tion require­ments placed on Help­ing Hands, we’ve need­ed more volunteers.

We’ve also had to replace some of our usu­al vol­un­teers as well, who have had to stay home as they are among our most vulnerable.

I per­son­al­ly upped my vol­un­teer hours until the Nation­al Guard came in to help. We are so grate­ful for their pres­ence – and some of the Guards­men and Guardswomen are from Sedro-Woolley.

Local farm­ers are kick­ing in and folks like myself are rais­ing mon­ey. I raised over $1,000 through my birth­day event last month for Help­ing Hands (thank you to those able to give!) and it’s not too late if you would like to con­tribute.

The city has made it pos­si­ble for employ­ees to work from home when­ev­er fea­si­ble. Our police and fire depart­ments are, like most these days, stretched thin.

Mask wear­ing and sham­ing is a strange new phenomenon. 

Some here don’t believe in sci­ence when it dis­agrees with a belief, and it’s becom­ing as divi­sive as every­thing else these days. 

An upriv­er Face­book group had to remove a post where a woman point­ed out a group at a busi­ness estab­lish­ment that were not wear­ing masks. 

Dis­turbing­ly, at essen­tial busi­ness­es such as gro­cery stores, it was rare to see any­one oth­er than the work­ers (myself and a cou­ple oth­ers) wear­ing a mask — a huge risk to the essen­tial work­ers. But at the gar­den cen­ters that are open, every­one was wear­ing one. (I actu­al­ly did­n’t expect to see them open the first time I went a gar­den cen­ter since the out­break of the virus, and left mine in the car at home. Of course, all my neigh­bors were there with theirs on. Oops.) 

I am work­ing to get the Gov­er­nor to see pet groom­ing, espe­cial­ly with the upcom­ing warm months and its accom­pa­ny­ing flea sea­son, as essential. 

After a dis­cus­sion with my state sen­a­tor, I’ve been try­ing to form an alliance with oth­er groom­ing busi­ness­es in the area to put for­ward sim­i­lar requests with good rea­son­ing behind the idea and work­able plans on how to min­i­mize issues. 

Some, instead, called my land­lord to ensure I wasn’t groom­ing, which was dis­ap­point­ing. There is enough busi­ness for us all, and I present­ly have a wait­ing list of 150+ dogs as a one-woman shop with tem­per­a­tures some days trend­ing toward 80 F (and some­times even inch­ing just beyond). I am going to be over­whelmed when I return to my busi­ness. Feast or famine!

The local thrift shop will soon be over­whelmed with my spring clean­ing dona­tions. Most peo­ple I know local­ly are in self quar­an­tine, so I spend time get­ting my gar­den togeth­er, cook­ing and call­ing friends while I walk my adopt­ed Rot­tweil­er, Trey. Thank­ful­ly, I adopt­ed Trey from Seat­tle Pure­bred Dog Res­cue right before the news of the virus hit us.

Skag­it Coun­ty will lose tons of rev­enue this year with­out tourism.

It’s a $65 mil­lion a year busi­ness here. More than a mil­lion peo­ple come to see mil­lions of tulips in bloom every year through the Skag­it Tulip Fes­ti­val and the dis­play gar­den tours at Tulip Town and Roozen­Gaarde — but not this one.

(They are doing vir­tu­al tours and bulbs can be ordered.)

Skagit Valley panorama

A panoram­ic view of Skag­it Val­ley tulips (Pho­to: Abhin­a­ba Basu, repro­duced under a Cre­ative Com­mons license)

For tax rev­enue, Sedro Wool­ley counts heav­i­ly on small busi­ness­es and they in turn rely on tourism, espe­cial­ly this time of year with such events as Wood­fest, Blast from the Past and the Help­ing Hands Food Bank Beer Fes­ti­val. We will lose a sub­stan­tial amount of busi­ness from tourism this year.

The mea­ger lev­els of incom­ing tax rev­enue we’re see­ing could lead to us tem­porar­i­ly cut­ting pur­chas­es and oth­er expens­es from our city bud­get. We will also have a lot of mak­ing up to do, but a longer way to go, than larg­er cities.

As far as our local busi­ness­es go, many were oper­at­ing on tight bud­gets already, as expect­ed in a small town. At least a few will not be able to return, unfor­tu­nate­ly. The com­mu­ni­ty is doing all it can to sup­port them, and our local restau­rants are over­whelmed with take­out orders. I try to sup­port them as well, but many are clos­ing ear­ly in the day as they run out of supplies.

Being a small com­mu­ni­ty with 12,000 res­i­dents, we real­ly can­not afford to lose a sin­gle busi­ness. I hope that most of them can hold on until we get to the oth­er side of this. I see the light at the end of the tun­nel. When going through hell, it’s best to keep going, as Win­ston Churchill once quipped.

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