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Why some Eastern Washington counties say regional reopening plan is unfair

Spokane County has significantly more people and coronavirus cases, skewing the data, according to Whitman County.

WHITMAN COUNTY, Wash. — Starting Monday, Washington is launching the Roadmap to Recovery, Governor Inslee’s regional approach for a phased reopening plan.

Spokane, Whitman, Stevens, Asotin, Adams, Pend Oreille, Lincoln, Ferry and Garfield County are all in the 'East' region. 

Whitman County has less than 3,000 COVID-19 cases and are trending downwards. Despite their hard work over the past 10 months, the new recovery plan has put them at square one.

The region cannot move to phase two without decreasing 10% of new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, ICU staffed beds and positive tests overall in a week to two week period. 

Spokane County is more than 10 times bigger than Whitman County, but they are lumped together for the state’s reopening guidelines.

"It's bringing down the numbers for Spokane to be able to open up soon," Paradise Creek Brewery general manager Jonny Handy said. "Whereas, it's just slowing us all down."

A few months ago, the Pullman restaurant and bar was able to open back up to 75% capacity due to COVID-19 cases slowing down. They were shut down again over the Inslee's orders.

Now, they have to face the challenges of COVID-19 in their community, Idaho bars taking what business they have left and Spokane County’s coronavirus issues.

"It really only helps Spokane, because all the small counties have way better rates in terms of how many people are sick, and in hospitals and stuff," Handy said, referring to being grouped together for reopening plans.

RELATED: How Spokane, Eastern Washington can move to Phase 2 of reopening

The problem with this is Spokane County has around 530,000 people. The eight other counties have 175,000 in total. Whitman County says Spokane will skew the data, and may make it extremely difficult for them and other rural counties to reopen. 

"Coordinating with Spokane on that regional approach to reopening is going to add its fair share of challenges to Eastern Washington," Whitman County Public Information Officer Ben Stone said.

Stone is on the COVID Response team and says his county has had under 3,000 cases because of their ability to work locally. They would be able to reopen under the state’s guidelines, had they just been evaluated by their county and not as a region.

All that Stone wants is to feel heard and communicate with the Department of Health.

"Allowing them to reach out and ask for help from local health jurisdictions, ask for input, ask for insights onto the ground," he continued. "As the response community around the state, it makes sense for us to be working a lot more closely together."

Both men say the only thing they can hope for is the Department of Health to amend their plan to look at each county individually, or wait until Spokane County gets a handle on it’s COVID-19 numbers.

"We'll make it through, but it's just tough to have to keep changing our goal every month when things keep changing," Handy said.