SPOKANE, Wash. — State leaders announced on Thursday that Grant County is joining others that are eligible to apply for moving into Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee's reopening plan before the rest of the state.
Grant County joins a handful of others that are now eligible to submit a variance application, including Spokane and Adams Counties.
Okanogan County announced that its Board of Health voted during a meeting on Thursday to recommend that the county apply for a partial variance to Phase 2. According to the Washington State Department of Health, a county's Board of Health can decide to apply for a list of partial reopenings allowed under Phase 2.
Applications for a faster reopening have already been approved for Wahkiakum, Skamania, Stevens, Columbia, Garfield, Lincoln, Ferry and Pend Oreille Counties.
Counties with a population of less than 75,000 and no new cases of COVID-19 in the last three weeks may apply for a variance from the state. Expanded criteria announced this week also allows applications from counties with less than 10 new cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day span.
The application process requires support from the local health officer, the local board of health, local hospitals, and the county commission or council.
Grant County was not included on the initial list of larger county that could apply to move into Phase 2 sooner than the state. With a population just under 100,000, Grant County's goal is to get 10 cases or less through a 14-day stretch.
Grant County Health District Administrator Theresa Adkinson said the county is currently satisfying the goal, but added that the dates initially picked by the state to gauge this number were April 28 through May 12. On those particular days, the total number of new cases exceeded the required 10. Adkinson said she isn't sure why the state picked those certain days.
Phase 2 could begin statewide on June 1. It will allow more outdoor recreation, such as camping, and small group gatherings or five people or less.
Barbershops and salons can also reopen, along with restaurants at 50% capacity and tables of five people or less. Pet services, including grooming, could resume.
Some professional services can also resume, although teleworking will still be encouraged.
Businesses in the counties approved to move into the second phase must wait to reopen until guidance has been released for their industry on how to keep workers and the public safe, state leaders said. They must comply with all health and safety requirements outlined in that guidance to reopen.
“We recognize COVID-19 is impacting some parts of our state in different ways and some counties will be ready to move forward earlier than others,” said State Secretary of Health John Wiesman Secretary Wiesman. “While recognizing that reality, we set cautious, thorough requirements for counties that want to apply for a variance. Each of the counties approved to enter Phase 2 has demonstrated strong planning and capability in the areas necessary to protect public health in their communities.”
Inslee is still asking Washington residents to stay close to home, but he is not prohibiting travel to other counties, said spokesperson Tara Lee.
Counties that are beginning to reopen earlier than the state could adopt a local ordinance or rule providing that nonresidents may engage only in activities that are allowed under the statewide stay-home order, Lee said. This means a county could limit access to their restaurants, taverns, barbers and salons to its own residents.
Each county that applies for a variance must demonstrate that they have adequate local hospital bed capacity and personal protective equipment to keep health care workers safe. The application must include plans for:
- Making testing available and accessible to everyone in the county with symptoms
- Staffing case investigations and contact tracing
- Housing people in isolation or quarantine who can’t or don’t want to do so at home
- Providing case management services to those in isolation and quarantine
- Responding rapidly to outbreaks in congregate settings.
The variance requests are reviewed by the secretary of health, who can approve them as submitted, approve with modifications or deny them. Variances can be revoked if circumstances change.