Inland Journal, March 12, 2020: Coronavirus Preparation, Daylight Saving Time and More

Mar 12, 2020

Spokane County Health Officer Bob Lutz and Mayor Nadine Woodward brief the media about coronavirus-related issues on Wednesday.
Credit Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Today on Inland Journal and the Inland Journal podcast, the Washington Democratic presidential primary is still too close to call. Bernie Sanders led after the first count Tuesday night. Joe Biden holds the lead now. Biden won in Idaho. What’s next for Democrats in those two states as the presidential campaign moves to the next phase? The Idaho legislature voted this week to move the northern half of the state to full-time Daylight Saving Time when Washington and Oregon do. We’ll dig into our archive and talk with a proponent of Daylight Saving Time. We’ll hear about a new survey by the city of Spokane to gauge how people think the city should move forward in adapting to climate change. And we’ll celebrate the Hindu Festival of Colors with the Spokane Hindu community.

But first, planning for the coronavirus.

Spokane County has not had a confirmed case of Covid-19, but local officials, such as Spokane County Health Officer Bob Lutz, are resigned to the fact that may soon change.

“It is here. We just don’t have documentation that it’s here. And so, until we have those documented tests, it’s like throwing a dart at a board, sort of guessing where it’s going to hit," Lutz said. "I think it’s really important that providers judiciously use their clinical judgment to test. But just statistically, if I have 36 states across this country currently with disease and, a short time ago I had none, we’re seeing this rapidly spread. The World Health Organization declared it a pandemic today.”

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward was briefed Wednesday by federal and state health officials about actions taken in other places to react to the spread of the virus.

“At the direction of the Spokane Regional Health District, we are operating under voluntary isolation and quarantine for those who are exhibiting cold or flu-like symptoms," Woodward said.

She says, before it gets a foothold here, people need to begin protecting themselves and their neighbors.

“We are urging everyone in the Spokane community to take immediate steps to practice social distancing," Woodward said. "That includes maximizing telecommuting options, embedding social distancing into organizations by postponing non-time sensitive meetings or conducting them virtually, and minimizing the chances of exposure to anyone with weakened or compromised immune systems.”

The mayor is urging people to avoid traveling to City Hall to pay utility bills. Use the online options instead.

For city employees: “Avoid unnecessary travel and cancel or postpone non-essential meetings, conferences, workshops and training sessions. Work from home or work variable hours to avoid crowding at any one workplace. If a face-to-face meeting with people is unavoidable, minimize the meeting time, choosing a larger meeting room and to sit at least six feet away from each other. Avoid shaking hands and hugging," Woodward said.

The mayor said she is not yet declaring a local emergency or imposing limitations regarding public social events, such as those issued by Governor Jay Inslee regarding events in the Puget Sound area. But she says that could change any time.

“At this time, we are urging organizers of large social gatherings to review their contingency plans for postponing or even cancelling events of 250 or more people," she said.

Spokane Regional Health Officer Bob Lutz says local officials are considering major events on a case-by-case basis.

“Today, after consultation with colleagues at the state Department of Health, we recommended this weekend’s Washington middle school basketball championship, to be held at the Spokane Convention Center, be cancelled due to the number of attendees who would be traveling from high risk regions in our state. Other events, such as this weekend’s Spokane Chiefs hockey game at the Spokane Arena, will continue," Lutz said.

The NCAA announced that the men’s regional basketball tournament, to be held at the Arena next Thursday and Saturday, will be played, but that fans won’t be allowed to attend, only players, coaches, selected family members and other essential personnel. Fans who bought their tickets for that c an get refunds through their ticket outlets.

“This is, and I can’t say this enough, this is a developing situation. We expect additional information and updates over the next couple of days," Woodward said.

We are scheduled to interview the mayor this afternoon [Thursday]. We plan to produce a special Inland Journal podcast to be posted tomorrow morning. You can find it at the Spokane Public Radio website, or subscribe to the podcast at NPR One, Google Play or Apple podcasts.

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Elections workers continue to count ballots for Tuesday’s Democratic presidential primaries in Washington and Idaho. In Washington, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders held a very small lead after the first night of counting, but Joe Biden has since moved ahead and now he has the edge by a percentage point or so. Biden leads by six points in Idaho’s inaugural presidential primary.

The primary season continues next Tuesday in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio.

Candace Mumm: “What’s going to happen is, in coming weeks, Florida could be very important," said Spokane City Councilwoman Candace Mumm, who is a super delegate for Washington Democrats. She spoke to us on Election Night.

Candace Mumm: “The populated areas are definitely, eastern Washington, going more vfor Biden. It was fascinating to see the early results showing Sanders in some of the outlying counties, so I’m going to be very interested in what that map is going to look like. It looks like a checkerboard, honestly. I think it’s going to be very close in several of these communities. I think it will also be interesting to see the numbers of women who turn out to vote. The early numbers are showing, because people are declaring what party they are in, I noticed that, in Spokane County, that there were definitely more female Democrats that were declaring Democratic affiliation, moreso than men. I think that’s an interesting story, not just in Spokane, but across the state. With the vote looking very close, we are now seeing that the pledged delegates, at least going in, will likely have to be split up. That puts it again in question as to whether we’ll have a real front runner in Milwaukee.”

Milwaukee is the site of the Democratic National Convention. As a Democratic super delegate, Mumm will be part of Washington’s delegation there. For whom she will cast her ballot may not be known for awhile.

Candace Mumm: “I’m given a seat from the Democratic Municipal Officials of America. I’m the vice president of that organization and we represent mayors and council members who lean Democratic. We have three seats and so I would wait to hear from my board and my membership, which comprises of cities of all sizes across the country and every state. Then we will talk to each other. We haven’t made a decision about whether we’re going to vote collectively or not. We’re watching what’s happening and, if there’s a contested convention, which I don’t think we’ve had for four decades, the last time we’ve had a contested convention was with Republicans. It was California Governor Reagan, who was up against then-President Ford and it was very fascinating. So we’ll watch that. I’ll go down. We don’t commit, at least from the Democratic Municipal Officials, until we’re actually at the convention. There will be other super delegates that are unpledged, such as our governor and other elected officials from around the state and congresspeople who will probably be there with me and we will be having lots of conversations probably before we leave for Milwaukee and in Milwaukee. Also, there’s 163 delegates that were pledged to other Democratic candidates. That’s a big number. It will be interesting to see how those go forward. Who will they we apportioned to? With a close race at this point, everything is in play.”

In Idaho, where Democrats are deep in the minority, the next step is to determine who will go to Milwaukee and cast the state’s votes. 

“As a party, we don’t endorse anybody before the primary, so I think we’re excited to have this part of the process so we can have one solid candidate that we could stand behind and move forward," said Amanda Gill,  the Democratic Party state committeewoman for Nez Perce County, which includes Lewiston.

This primary was a new experience for many Democrats. It was the first presidential primary after years of using a caucus system.

“I think that a primary is more accessible for more people because we have our normal polling places. I think that a caucus, while exciting, can be kind of messy. So I feel like the primary gives just a better system overall, especially since what we saw in Iowa. On the fourth of April, we’ll still be doing some kind of a caucus. It’s just going to be as big as a normal, like filling up a gym with all of us," she said.

That meeting will focus on choosing delegates for the upcoming state and national conventions. After that, Gill says, the focus will shift to campaign mode.

“Here in Lewiston our goal will be to get as much information out to voters as we can, give people the tools to be able to canvass or to make phone calls or do things on behalf of their candidate. And then, as we move forward to our state primary, bringing in more of our down-ticket candidates as well, Idaho as a whole. We’ll be doing that at a much larger scale," Gill said.

"Nez Perce County is probably one of the least Democratic, it’s a very red state. We won’t have as much work to do here as locally as maybe we will statewide. Our goal as a party is to unite behind our candidates, opposing Donald Trump, because that’s the real goal is to take the presidency back because the real issue is who is in the White House right now.”

Amanda Gill is a Democratic party leader in Lewiston, Idaho.
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If or when Washington and Oregon move to full-time Daylight Saving time, parts of Idaho may change right along with it.

The Idaho House Tuesday voted to keep the northernmost 10 counties of the Gem State that now operate in Pacific time consistent with the neighboring states.

Moscow Republican Representative Bill Goesling is one of the co-sponsors.

“Think about the challenges our cities, schools and businesses will face when we have a one-hour time between as little as five-to-30 miles. For example, Schweitzer Engineering, 1,000 of the 3,200 employees across Washington and Idaho cross the border daily to and from work. They also are challenged by synchronizing their production facilities in Lewiston and Pullman," Goesling said.

The House approved the bill by a 68-1 vote. That followed a unanimous vote by the Senate.

The Washington and Oregon legislatures last year approved legislation to move to permanent full-time Daylight Saving Time. But the change cannot take place without Congressional approval.

University of Washington law professor Steve Calandrillo has been promoting this idea for a decade or more. We talked with him last March as the Washington legislature prepared to pass its own bill.

The Idaho Daylight Saving Time bill now goes to Governor Brad Little for his consideration.

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The city of Spokane’s Sustainability Action Subcommittee has a little survey it would like city residents to fill out.

The subcommittee is a study group formed by the city council to explore how the city can adjust to the effects of climate change. Kara Odegard is the council’s sustainability research analyst. She says the 14-question survey asks about people’s knowledge and feelings about climate change.

What it might mean for them if our temperatures change or increase in the Spokane region and to really get a sense for if they find any of the other impacts such as smoke from wildfires might impact their way of life in Spokane," Odegard said.

The subcommittee has 10 work groups, exploring issues from transportation to the built environment. Council President Breean Beggs says the city will use the ideas generated in the citizens’ group as it updates the city’s sustainability plan, adopted in 2009.

“We know from the science that we’re going to have less snowpack and the river’s going to run out of water quicker. We’re going to have more wildfires. How does that impact us? And then, what can we do as a city to ameliorate that, to the degree that we can do that, and also help the entire state and nation on that as well," Beggs said.

Spokane residents can fill out the survey between now and March 20. The subcommittee hopes to have results for the city council by sometime in April.
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Members of Spokane’s Hindu Temple and Cultural Center shared one of Hinduism’s major celebrations on Sunday at Spokane’s Faith and Values Interfaith Center.

The Festival of Colors has a long religious history, but it has also morphed into something more contemporary.

The Hindus call this celebration Holi. Its roots are based in part on a good versus evil mythological story about a tyrannical king and his virtuous son.

“So we demonstrated a play today about the story about Holika and Prahlaad and Hiranyakashipu," said Nishant Puri, the president of the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center.
 
The play was performed by some of the temple’s young members.

When the king assumed his throne, he became quite impossible. He thought he was immortal and he tried to crush all dissent. His son Prahlaad chose not to support his father and so the king moved to have his son killed. But the Hindu deity, Lord Vishnu, protected Prahlaad and the son eventually prevailed.

Sunday’s celebration also featured a few traditional dances, including an energetic number performed by six women wearing brightly colored costumes.
 
“The thing about the Indian civilization is that the religion and culture are so intermixed now. They’re so hard to separate out and say, ‘Oh, this is an exclusively religious or cultural thing,'" Puri said.

Just as Christmas and Easter have become commercial as well as spiritual holidays in the U.S., he says Holi has become much more than a religious celebration in India and the other places where Hindus practice it.

“It’s more about being merry and enjoying and the weather changing, getting out in the open and celebrating colors. All the flowers are blooming. They’re throwing colors on each other and make it fun," he said.

In fact, this part of Holi is quite a messy celebration. In India, Puri says people throw balloons or shoot squirt guns with colored water at each other. But it’s much warmer in India this time of year, so Spokane’s celebration was limited to dry paint.

“Grab some dry colors and put it on each other’s face or like throw it up in the air and each other’s clothes. It’s just fun," Puri said.

The Holi festival is new to Spokane, as is the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center.

But Spokane has been home to a few Hindu families since the early 1980s. Aruna Bhuta says those families began meeting to preserve and practice their traditions.

“We started our journey together, meeting each month, fourth Saturday of the month, meeting at each other’s home and having prayer group. And that made a difference in our children’s lives. But the group got bigger and bigger and it became difficult for us to continue at each other’s home. And here we are at this interfaith center. Welcome to all of you and let’s continue this tradition," Bhuta said.

Nishant Puri says the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center only recently earned non-profit status. It hopes to become a place where members of the local Hindu community can meet and support each other.

That’s it for this week’s Inland Journal. The program airs every Thursday on Spokane Public Radio. The podcast is available anytime at spokane public radio dot org. Subscribe at Apple Podcasts, NPR One or Google Play.

We close today with music from Portland guitarist Terry Robb, who’s playing up in Newport and Sandpoint this weekend. On Tuesday night, he stopped by our studio to jam with our Saturday evening blues host Brother Music.