SPOKANE, Wash. — Summer is upon us, but the season looks different this year as coronavirus has forced the cancellation of many major events.
But Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward wants some normalcy to return. In a Facebook post on Friday, she advocated for the return of outdoor summer events that have been canceled amid the pandemic.
"As we learn more about this virus we've discovered it's less likely to spread in the great outdoors," Woodward wrote in the post.
Many outdoor events in the Spokane area have been canceled, including Northern Quest's Outdoor Summer Concert Series and the Spokane County Interstate Fair.
Spokane street fairs set to take place in July and August have also been canceled.
Bloomsday 2020 was postponed until September, while Hoopfest is still planned for its postponed dates of August 22-23.
Woodward also referenced the small number of COVID-19 cases that have been linked to recent protests where thousands of people demonstrated against racism and police brutality in downtown Spokane.
While it’s possible protests caused an increase in the spread of the virus among attendees, that hasn’t yet shown up in the overall population of cities where these events occurred, according to a new economic report. In fact, these researchers believe the protests resulted in more social distancing, not less.
In Spokane specifically, only five coronavirus cases were linked to a protest on May 31. Kelli Hawkins with the Spokane Regional Health District said epidemiologists have not discovered more positive cases related to attendance at recent rallies.
“In some respects, the protests did serve as a natural experiment because you had large numbers of individuals out there, most masked, and again you didn’t see a whole lot of cases," said Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz on Friday.
Though the return of outdoor summer events could be a welcome change for some, these large gatherings are not allowed right now in Spokane County.
During Phase 2 of reopening in Washington, small group gatherings or five or less people are allowed. Group sizes could expand to 50 people or less during Phase 3 of reopening.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for people to physically distance and attendees travel from outside the local area as the highest risk.
Lutz acknowledged that outdoor events are often safer than those indoors. However, mass gatherings of any kind are not safe right now, whether you are wearing a mask or not, he said.
“It’s unfortunate, but I think the reality is that outdoor events, yes they’re safer, but we’re not going to see outdoor events in the foreseeable future in Spokane," Lutz added.
Gov. Inslee also announced on Thursday that the state is putting a two-week pause on any counties moving to their next phases of reopening due to increasing COVID-19 cases.
Woodward also asked people to "put others before yourself" by wearing a mask and physically distancing when going to restaurants and other establishments over the holiday weekend.
"Please don’t put them in a position of having to choose whether to serve you because you refuse to follow the guidelines. They’ve suffered enough already and we absolutely cannot risk another shutdown," Woodward wrote.
She also referenced Inslee's proclamation that requires all businesses to turn away customers who are not wearing masks beginning Tuesday, July 7.
The proclamation comes almost a week after Inslee's statewide mandate took effect requiring people to wear face masks while in public, both indoors and outdoors where six feet of social distancing is not possible.
"Let us get back to a more normal life. And if masks are the answer to preventing community spread, we should open fully under this statewide mask mandate!" Woodward wrote.