As your Association Executive Director, part of my job is to maintain an awareness of important happenings across the entirety of our Washington State conservation delivery system. One of the situations I’m watching now is the accelerating spread of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19.
The news is worrisome
I’m sure you’ve seen the news. Opinions from non-experts (people like you and me) vary widely. What the experts are saying, though, is very worrisome.
We are part of a community
All of us who work in or with a conservation district are part of a larger group of people that form a community. For us, I call it our conservation community. This comes naturally for me because of my role with your Association. Did you know that a synonym for community is association? Your Association is also a community.
WACD is not just part of our community. Because of our central organizing and supporting role, your Association is a key player in helping our community thrive. And that leads me to the point of this opinion piece.
Community means supporting each other
Now, more than ever, we need to lean on each other and provide support. We will likely see people in our conservation community become affected by COVID-19, either directly or indirectly. Once someone in a conservation district office becomes infected, the most likely action is to close that office. That affects employees, customers, partners, and grantors. It hits people in their sickbed and in their wallet.
Some of our most vulnerable folks form the honored leadership of your district and your Association. They make up many of your long-standing conservation heroes in your district.
We — the entire conservation community — have an obligation to protect our most vulnerable people. Even if you are not in a high risk category for infection, you could still carry the virus to someone who is more vulnerable.
This situation will certainly challenge us to continue to provide continuous, seamless service. My pledge to you is that we will strive to do so, but we’ll have to do it at arms length.
WACD has tools you can use
How can we help you? While I have great hope that most of us in our conservation community won’t be touched, I also know that hope is not a strategy. We need to plan for what may happen and have tools to help us get through a situation.
To that end, we can provide a central communication hub where our community can share information and concerns. That service exists at https://groups.io/g/wadistricts. We call it the Washington Conservation Network. I invite people in our Washington conservation community to join the Network. (We have links to additional information about COVID-19 in a WCN forum topic.)
In a pinch, WACD can assist you with virtual meetings so that you don’t have to come into close contact with others who may be infected or who may be most vulnerable to infection. Through our Zoom.us subscription, we can host virtual meetings (webinars and videoconferences) if you have no other way to accomplish this. We can also provide use of a teleconference number for districts who don’t have their own account
We also have an online file storage system at Box.com that can be used to temporarily hold files you need to share with your group for a board meeting, community meeting, etc.
We have been lucky
And we can listen with compassion and empathy. If this virus sweeps through our community, we will likely lose some people because so many of us are at high risk. We’ve been very lucky over the past few decades, but even when we lose only one person, it is heart breaking throughout the system. None of us exist without impacting the lives of others and each of us contributes to the whole. When we lose someone, it cuts across the entire community. If we lose multiple people, it will be truly heart breaking.
Become educated and communicate
I encourage you to become better educated about COVID-19, to think about how your conservation district can protect your people and others, and what you may have to do if someone in your office or on your board becomes infected with COVID-19.
Communicate. We can’t help each other if we don’t share experiences and knowledge. Please stay in close contact with WACD and with your Washington State Conservation Commission Regional Manager. Our two statewide entities can help coordinate information to help you get through this if it lands on your doorstep.
Talk to your neighbors
Lastly, we have a strong community but it needs to become stronger right now. If you haven’t talked to your neighboring districts about possibly housing some of your people, now is the time. Nobody understands our conservation district system better than others in the system. People throughout our conservation community have huge hearts but they need to hear from you, and you from them.
Keep us posted at WACD and the Commission, and stay tuned in to remain up-to-date on the latest information! With planning, courage, and community, we will get through this.