The first case of the coronavirus in the U.S. was confirmed on January 21, 2020 in Seattle, WA. Despite this, Curate caught municipalities discussing the novel virus as early as November 2019, which have slowly increased each month through March, as displayed in the heat maps below, while the pandemic continues to afflict the country, especially large metro areas like Boston and Chicago.
By Taralinda Willis
As the coronavirus outbreak situation changes daily—even hourly—businesses are anxious to stay in the know about the latest actions their local elected officials and state legislatures are taking to stop the virus and mitigate the economic impact of the effective shutdown of society.
Most cities around the U.S. are less than one week into this new reality of social distancing, although some of the epicenters of COVID-19 have gotten a few days’ head start, and that head start has prompted them to lead the way in announcing emergency ordinances to protect their communities.
It’s a good bet that many cities around the country will follow suit in the next few weeks with similar executive orders and emergency ordinances. Here’s a rundown on the main types of measures cities are enacting:
Since physically appearing in court means risking the spread of infection, some cities are taking action to shift court proceedings to a virtual setting or to suspend court proceedings altogether. In the town of Oregon, Wis., anyone who was scheduled to appear in court can request that their hearing be rescheduled, or request to appear via phone, if they call in 48 hours beforehand. “All requests will be granted,” wrote Municipal Judge Beth Cox in a statement.
Some cities have decided to suspend their small claims courts for either a short-term period or forthe duration of the state of emergency. The supervisor of Fallsburg, New York, shared with residents the following message on March 12:
“I have directed our Town Justices to adjourn all non-essential matters before their Courts, including civil, municipal code violations and vehicle and traffic matters for thirty (30) days. Criminal matters will be determined by the Court and District Attorney's office.”
While suspending non-essential civil court cases means that if you were in the midst of a dispute with someone who owed you money, you’re not going to make any progress towards a payout until the suspension is over, in some cities it also means that landlords will be unable to bring new eviction lawsuits to the courts.
Even if their courts are still running, many communities are either considering enacting or have already enacted a moratorium on evictions directly, since displacing people from their homes could endanger them and lead to more disease spread.
The city of Kenmore, Wash., proposed a moratorium on evictions through April 24 at a meeting on March 16. Cleveland, Ohio, will decide on March 23 about a 60-day moratorium on evictions, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. And local news reports say the town of Hermosa Beach, Calif., is considering pausing commercial evictions.
Cities are putting in place a variety of changes related to public and private transportation in order to make it easier for people to stay home, to pick up or deliver food and supplies, or to thin out the crowds using public transit.
New York is suspending enforcement of its e-bike ban in order to help delivery workers get around faster.
Los Angeles is easing back on enforcement of several parking restrictions, including suspending ticketing or towing for street cleaning and parking—so that people staying home all day don’t have to worry about moving their cars—and removing parking restrictions around schools so that families picking up meals for their kids can get in and out quickly.
Madison, Wis., is also letting up on parking restrictions. The city announced Wednesday that it won’t be enforcing metered or time-limit parking restrictions until April 5, but unlike L.A., Madison will enforce street cleaning parking restrictions. Madison also capped the number of passengers who can ride a bus at 15 and is switching to a more limited service schedule beginning March 23.
The utility regulators in most states are asking utility providers to hold off on disconnections while the state of emergency is still in effect. But many cities are also taking action.
The city of Brewster, Wash., called a special council meeting on March 16 to discuss possible action concerning customer utility payments.
In addition to suspending disconnections, Seattle is also extending its income-based discount program for utilities to those who have suddenly lost all or a portion of their income from the outbreak, which would allow some residents to cut their utility bills in half.
5. Sick leave
Since sick leave provisions often come with restrictions, like getting a doctor’s note to prove that you’re actually sick, some cities, including San Francisco, are removing those restrictions to give employees easy access to the leave that they have accrued if they can’t work for any reason related to the outbreak. More cities will likely follow suit, especially if action from the state or federal level takes too long.
Staying up-to-date in a time of unprecedented change
Since the coronavirus situation in each city is changing so rapidly, many city and county leaders are using their broad new powers granted by declaring a state of emergency to enact immediate changes. They are sharing announcements directly to city government home pages and making changes without going through the typical checks and balances of city council and committee meetings.
To keep up with the changes, we recommend following local news organizations, scanning the home pages of your local government websites, and updating your search terms with Curate to flag any ordinances related to mitigating the impact of COVID-19. We are actively working to add new functionality to the Curate search tools to help businesses get more comprehensive information faster about this rapidly changing scenario.
The social distancing strategy to fight the outbreak could be necessary for anywhere from eight weeks to a year or more—right up until a vaccine is administered to the entire population. If the longer projections turn out to be true, cities will face difficult decisions about how to support the sectors of their economies that rely on people being able to gather in public. Those decisions will likely be made at virtual meetings, and the public will need to adapt in order to participate in the process and provide input.
Now, more than ever, businesses need to pay attention to, and participate in, the decisions happening in local government. And Curate will be here to help.