10 More Washington Counties, Including Larger Ones Like Spokane, Eligible For Earlier Reopening

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said May 19 that his office is finishing guidelines for more populous counties to allow more businesses to open. CREDIT: TVW
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said May 19 that his office is finishing guidelines for more populous counties to allow more businesses to open. CREDIT: TVW

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BY LIZ BRAZILE & DOUG NADVORNICK

Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday said 10 additional counties are eligible to apply to loosen some social distancing restrictions in place to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

State officials have also outlined the criteria for moving into the second phase of reopening, which could allow in-store retail and restaurant dining to resume with certain limitations.

Kitsap, Spokane, Thurston, Lewis, Clark, Clallam, Adams, Mason, Island, and San Juan counties are newly eligible to apply with the state Department of Health to move into Phase 2 of the state’s four-phase approach to reopening.

As of Monday, 10 of Washington’s 39 counties have been given the green light to move into the second reopening phase, and 22 total are eligible. That phase could allow restaurants to host patrons at 50% capacity, with parties no larger than five to a table. Additionally, gatherings of five or fewer, new construction projects, and pet grooming services could be permitted.

The criteria for eligibility requires a county to have less than 10 new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents, over the span of 14 days. Also, hospitals serving a given county must have at least 20% surge capacity and a 14-day supply of personal protective equipment for health care workers.

 Washington state’s four-phase reopening plan as outlined by Gov. Jay Inslee on May 1, 2020.

The Phase 2 application process, outlined by state health secretary John Wiesman, begins with local health officers recommending whether their county is ready to move forward to the local health board. If the board votes to move the process forward, hospitals are surveyed about capacity.

The ball then lands in the county commissioners’ court, where a vote must occur. If that vote is favorable, a local health department then starts putting together an application that outlines, in part, COVID-19 testing capacity.

“How many tests they’re actually doing, how they are sharing access for folks who might be uninsured — who might have other languages —and to make sure that folks who traditionally are underserved have equal access to testing, both in terms of the fees and the services that are available,” Wiesman said.

State officials will also expect candidates to demonstrate a capacity to conduct contact tracing within a 24- to 48-hour window of identifying a new case, and provide supports for sick people required to isolate — that includes free temporary housing for those who can’t quarantine at home for the safety of others.

Counties must also show they can adequately investigate and respond to outbreaks in places such as long-term care facilities and workplaces.

Inslee said the same criteria for moving into Phase 2 applies to all of the state’s counties for now. However, that criteria “is always subject to change depending on what’s happening with the virus,” he said.

The governor has urged people living elsewhere not to flock to smaller counties as they begin early reopening.

“This, obviously, is happily going to allow more economic opportunity for states that can qualify, while still really providing the protections we need for the health of our citizens,” he said.

In Spokane County

This was a message that local leaders such as Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs have been waiting for weeks to hear.

“I’m really excited about it for two reasons,” Beggs said. “One, that we have objective criteria that we can now meet and that way we can focus our efforts. And secondly, I’m even more excited that it looks like Spokane is going to be eligible based on the hard work that everyone has done to smash the curve of this virus.”

Spokane had already submitted a variance application to the state Department of Health. But that was before the state was ready to accept it. Inslee says he’s not sure if Spokane will need to completely reapply, including new paperwork and supporting votes by elected bodies. But he says it’s likely the county will just need to supplement what it has already submitted.

Ten other less populous counties have already been granted the right to go to Phase 2 of the state’s four-phase reopening plan.

“It really is important for people not to overload those smaller communities in their restaurants or otherwise,” Inslee said. “It’s really a time to remain close to home. And we know some of these smaller communities have tried to reiterate that with us so that they are not overwhelmed.”

Liz Brazile is online editor and reports for KUOW Seattle. Doug Nadvornick is news and program director for Spokane Public Radio.

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