The COVID-19 Roadmap: Into the Unknown

By Kalyn Brady
Communications Manager | City of Auburn, Washington

Three weeks ago I recall watching news of the outbreak of COVID-19, then still the nameless new strain of coronavirus, as it swept across China. We knew then that there was a strong likelihood that we too would soon be facing a similar outbreak, though to be honest, I don’t think any of us really understood.

Today as I write this, we are grappling with challenges we could have never imagined. Schools have been ordered closed for the next six weeks, leaving employees and their employers unsure of how to keep business operational as parents grapple with how to care for their children. Grandparents, the stalwart of babysitting emergencies for many families, have been cautioned against contact with others given the particular risks to older individuals.

Community centers are closed, and along with them the senior centers, museums, sports gatherings and many other public locations. 

Small businesses, particularly restaurant owners, are desperate for help. Sales are down as much as 90 perent for some shop owners, and even for our city’s larger businesses the economic impact is devastating. Grocery store aisles are empty of essentials and many are considering closing their doors entirely to the public and moving to a mobile pick-up model. Even Starbucks, the cornerstone of everyday life here in the Pacific Northwest, has limited its operations at many stores to include only drive-thru pickup. Where facilities are still open, most customers are greeted by customer service counters wrapped in yellow tape or surrounded by tables to ensure a 6-foot distance is maintained. 

Medical facilities have stationed personnel covered in masks and gloves outside their buildings to screen visitors before they are allowed in doors. Doctors are directing patients to use virtual appointment options, both to protect against the spread of disease but also because they are overwhelmed at their offices. Hospitals are running out of beds and many have less than a day’s supply of protective medical equipment left.

I say this not to scare anyone, but to prepare those of you who have not yet encountered the full spectrum of this outbreak in your community. There is no roadmap for dealing with this because we have never been here before.

Our role as communicators is to be a conduit to our communities, no more so than in times like this. Our residents turn to us as a trusted source of information and as a guiding presence when emergencies arise. But what does that mean when we don’t know the answers ourselves? 

What I’ve learned more than anything in these passing days is that the importance of our role does not mean having all the answers. The strength that we can give to our residents in times such as this is the deep and nuanced understanding of our communities that we carry with us. How can we use our knowledge of our business community to develop creative outreach that encourages residents to support them? How can we assist public health agencies in reaching our minority communities with critical information about this virus? How can we help connect resources and groups with one another?

There is no roadmap. There never is with something like this. But no matter where we go from here, the truth remains that the power of community is stronger than any virus. Our next call to duty will be to share the story of our resilience.