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Early-opening counties still must wait on guidelines

For small Washington counties, the excitement of being allowed to enter phase two was dampened by another delay.

It seemed like good news at first: Lincoln County and four others in Washington were given the green light to enter phase two of reopening.

But it turns out, businesses there still have to wait a little while longer.

"We’re just disappointed that we worked so hard on this, and now we got approved for the waiver, and it’s really meaningless," said Lincoln County Commissioner Rob Coffman.

When Governor Inslee announced smaller counties could be eligible for a faster reopening than the rest of the state, Coffman and other Lincoln County leaders jumped at the opportunity.

“Our public health folks have been working day and night for the last week trying to get this waiver submitted," he said.

On Friday that waiver was approved, but it wasn’t everything they were hoping for.

“My first reaction was that it was awesome, and I was appreciative of all the hard work our public health folks had been doing," said Coffman. "Until, we discovered that just because we’re granted a waiver doesn’t mean Lincoln County’s open for business.”

That’s because when the businesses open, they have to follow specific guidelines for their industry —  guidelines the state hasn’t released yet.

“Very frustrating for us, because we’re the ones left to try to explain to the public: ‘hey, yeah, the governor said we got a waiver, but the reality is the waiver is invalid until the state issues their guidance,'" said Coffman.

A spokesman for the governor’s office said those guidelines should be available soon, sometime early next week.

In the scheme of things, it's a minor delay, but for struggling businesses it’s only compounding frustration.

“[It's been] extremely confusing, and information that we’ve been receiving has been so vague," said Coffman.

But ,once they can open up, Coffman says businesses throughout the county are hopeful their customers will be there.

“The people in Lincoln County have been extremely supportive of our businesses," he said. “We’re a pretty tight-knit community out here and we do what we can to support each other.”

Once Lincoln County does open up, Davenport will become the closest city to Spokane with more than 1,000 people. That raises the possibility of a sort of COVID tourism, where people from larger cities may travel to engage in business in the early-opening counties.

Coffman isn't sure whether that would happen, but says it could be a good thing.

"I think most of our businesses would welcome all the business they can get. So hopefully that happens," he said.

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