As increasing numbers of Coronavirus cases are cropping up in the Tri-Cities, the outbreak is significantly impacting companies and individuals throughout our community. Those entities and companies located within the Tri-Cities Research District are no exception. Congress has passed a massive $2.2 trillion aid package in response to President Trump’s National State of Emergency. Here in Washington state, Governor Jay Inslee has also declared a statewide State of Emergency, and closed all K-12 schools, restaurants (except for takeout and drive-throughs), and all entertainment and meeting venues until the end of April. It appears that those restrictions will be extended for weeks or even months. The impact on workers and employers has already been significant with unemployment claims in Benton and Franklin Counties for the week ending March 11, up 924 percent from the previous week.
Tri-Cities Research District board meetings are cancelled until further notice. The Port of Benton temporarily suspended public access to its offices on March 20. While the Port office will be closed to the public, Port operations will continue. Executive Director Diahann Howard said, “We appreciate citizens recognizing the importance to protect the public and our employees in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. Tenant communications will be conducted primarily over the telephone and via e-mail. In limited situations, in-person appointments may be scheduled, but only if deemed necessary, and strict adherence to social distancing requirements can be met. Port staff is committed to ensuring tenants experience minimal impacts with this temporary suspension of public access to our business offices.”
Washington State University Tri-Cities has announced that they will be moving to online classes following their spring break which ends on March 20. The decision was made as confirmed cases of the virus began showing up in various Eastern Washington counties. Students will have seven weeks of online classes when they return. WSU employees will stilll need to go to work but supervisors will help employees who want to work from home. “Moving classes online serves as a proactive measure to help ensure the health of our campus and regional community, and to ensure that we are providing consistent delivery of education across the WSU system, “ according to WSU Tri-Cities chancellor Sandra Haynes. The school has a website that allows viewers to follow WSU’s response to COVID-19; please visit www.wsu.edu/covid-19.
Columbia Basin College cancelled classes on March 16, and moved as many classes as possible to an online format a day later. They closed the campus to the general public on March 26. Campus services will remain open and classes, like science labs, that cannot be replicated online, will continue to be offered in their current format. Some examples include allied health programs, science labs, career and technical labs such as welding and machining technology, and studio/performance labs in the fine and performing arts. The college is also planning to add an extra week of spring break and delay the start of spring quarter by a week to April 13.
At Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the planned March 11 groundbreaking for the new Energy Sciences Capability building has been postponed indefinitely as has a planned Battelle 90th anniversary community reception. PNNL’s 4,700 employees have been told to work from home, if possible, and to have virtual meetings using computers or mobile phones. If meetings must be held in person, the number of participants should be limited and workers should try to maintain their distance from each other. PNNL is also requiring employees to postpone or cancel all non-essential domestic travel or lab meetings that others would travel to the lab to attend.
The Department of Energy has already suspended nearly all international travel at PNNL and its other sites. DOE, which also employs about 9,400 workers and some additional subcontract workers, has told all non-essential workers to stay home.