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Pullman City Councilman suggests halting coronavirus tests to reopen Whitman County

Councilmember Al Sorensen suggested not testing so the county could reopen, and that people should be able to choose if they want to go out in public.

PULLMAN, Wash. — A member of the Pullman City Council suggested during a meeting on Tuesday that Whitman County should avoid testing people for coronavirus in order to reopen under Governor Jay Inslee's guidelines.

Councilmember Al Sorensen suggested early in a city council meeting on Tuesday that tests should be stopped so the county can go eight more days without a new positive case, which would allow Whitman County to reopen.

Gov. Inslee's guidelines say counties with less than 75,000 people must go three weeks without a coronavirus case in order to accelerate their reopening process. 

"Honestly, in my opinion, this three-week waiting period of no new cases makes me think that maybe we shouldn't get tested. Let's get to the 21 days and go," Sorensen said.

Current guidelines from Inslee stipulate that counties with less than 75,000 people can move to phase two early if they haven't had a new case of the 2019 novel coronavirus in 21 days.

Sorensen went on to explain that he thinks Pullman needs to be able to reopen to save small businesses, and that Moscow beginning its reopening under Idaho Governor Brad Little's plan will cause even more damage.

"The opening of Idaho and Gov. Little moving forward with some things is even going to cause a greater problem for us than we've had in the past few months with our small businesses," Sorensen said. "The drainage to Moscow, being a border state, has not been that big of a deal at the moment because they've been shut down also, but now that they're opening back up, that small drain hole is now a giant flood."

"And I'll tell you what, our small businesses in Pullman are not going to survive this if we can't get back going," he added. 

RELATED: When can I travel to Idaho? How will restaurants reopen? Your questions answered

Sorensen's comments came during a conversation about local leaders filing an application to Inslee's office to be included in the early transition to phase two.

The council member also said leaders may suggest to the governor that he change the criteria for smaller counties to cases resulting in hospitalization instead of strictly positive cases.

"One of the things that they're talking about is trying to get the governor to realign this a little bit to where its not just newly reported cases, but maybe cases at the hospital or in the hospital," Sorensen said.

Sorensen added that it should be people's choice whether or not to go out in public and to local businesses.

Councilman Dan Records responded to Sorensen's comments, saying he believed Pullman shouldn't try to rush reopening.

"My personal opinion is that some of the things you just said come across as a bit reckless, and I think taking a cautiously optimistic approach to this and going with the governor’s recommendations for that no new cases," Records said. "If we have one new case, that can spread pretty quickly to other people unless we contain that case, so we need to continue testing more proactively. 

"We need to increase testing so we can do contact tracing and isolate those cases. I think it’s a bit reckless to say that we shouldn’t do that," Records added.

RELATED: Gov. Inslee's office clarifies: Spokane County could reopen sooner

Records went on to say that, "I don't think we can sacrifice public health to put businesses forward." He also said that testing is needed due to travel between Pullman and Moscow,

Sorensen responded by saying that Records wasn't a business owner, unlike many people in Pullman, and its "imperative" for those owners to reopen their businesses. He also agreed with Records that travel between Pullman and Moscow is uncontrollable.

The full transcript of Sorensen and Records' exchange is replicated below. It has been slightly edited for brevity. A video of the meeting is also embedded below, or can be viewed by clicking here.

Sorensen: "One of the things that I know that our legislators are working on, and I don’t [Pullman Mayor] Glenn [Johnson], if this came up in conversation or not, but one of the things that they’re talking about is trying to get the governor [Jay Inslee] to realign this a little bit, where it’s not just newly reported cases, but maybe cases at the hospital or in the hospital or things like that, because right at the moment, if we have one new case reported tomorrow, we go right back to day one. And honestly in my opinion, this three-week waiting period of no new cases makes me think that maybe we shouldn’t get tested. Let’s get to the 21 days and go. This, right at the moment, the opening of Idaho and Governor [Brad] Little moving forward with some things is even going to cause a greater problem for us than we’ve had in the past few months with our small businesses. The drainage to Moscow, being a border state, has not been that big of a deal at the moment because they’ve been shut down also, but now they’re opening back up, and that small drain hole is now a giant flood. And I’ll tell you what, our small businesses in Pullman are not going to survive this if we can’t get back going. It’s my personal opinion that, if there are people out there, and I’m sensitive to people getting the virus and getting sick and dying from it or whatever may happen. But in my personal opinion, if you don’t feel comfortable going out in public, then stay home. We’re all adults, right? And we all have our own decision-making process, and if you don’t feel comfortable going out, then stay home. But let our businesses, who are being killed by this stuff from the governor, let us get back open in some way, and let’s try to move as fast as we can to get that done."

Records: “I just, you know some of the things that Al, you just said, I’m concerned. And to me, my person opinion is that some of the things you just said come across as a bit reckless, and I think, taking a cautiously optimistic approach to this and going with the governor’s recommendations for that no new cases. One case, if we have one new case, that can spread pretty quickly to other people unless we contain that case, so we need to continue testing more proactively. We need to increase testing so we can do contact tracing and isolate those cases. I think it’s a bit reckless to say that we shouldn’t do that. I get where you’re coming from, the concern about our businesses being able to survive, this is a real concern for everyone, but I don’t think we can sacrifice public health to put businesses forward. So I am in support of the governor’s measure, the phased approach to opening, and I think to follow and abide by what those recommendations are and follow the lead of the governor on this one and taking that cautiously optimistic approach. I think we are at the place, where it would be appropriate, like [Pullman Police Chief] Gary Jenkins said, to go forward with that application process, but I don’t think we should be trying to jump start that, put pressure to get in earlier. Because one case in an isolated area, if we’re not controlling that, can quickly spread to others, and that’s what I’m concerned about with Idaho opening so early, is the cross-travel that we can’t really control across the border. If there are continuing infections that just aren’t getting tested, that can really blow up pretty quickly, and I’m concerned about that. But I’m also, I think we need to be looking toward how can we open those businesses in a safe and productive matter so that we don’t get a huge explosion of cases coming in another wave."

Sorensen: "I appreciate your comments Dan, but I’ll tell you, you’re not a business owner that I know of and I am, my wife is, many other people in this town are, and its imperative that [we] move forward. And most of them had plans before this even became a total shutdown to do social distancing, to do the cleaning. Phase two is not complete, ‘let everyone do everything,’ and if you think for a moment that the transportation between Moscow and Pullman has stopped at all since this first came out, it hasn’t. And like you said, we’re not going to be able to stop that because it’s happening, period. And us being on the border is a big deal, and I am totally behind making sure we can, I want us to be safe also, put in place the things that are in Phase two. It has a lot of stuff there, but I just still think that we need to let people make their own choice if they’re going to go out or not."