Washington’s Smallest Counties Will Lead The Way Into Phase 3 Of State’s Reopening Plan

Customers flocked to the River Mile 38 brewpub in Cathlamet after it reopened its tasting room and patio in mid-May. Wahkiakum County is in the vanguard of Washington counties advancing through Safe Start reopening phases. CREDIT: Tom Banse/N3

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Washington’s least populous counties will lead the way into the next phase of relaxing COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and social gatherings. This next phase allows for the resumption of team sports as well as for libraries, museums, gyms and movie theaters to at least partially reopen.

Nine rural counties are eligible to apply to the state Secretary of Health this week to move to the next stage in Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase reopening plan. Lincoln, Ferry, Stevens, Pend Oreille, Columbia and Wahkiakum counties wasted no time and submitted the necessary paperwork and letters of support on Wednesday to advance from Phase 2 to Phase 3.

County commissioners in Garfield and Skamania counties took final votes on Wednesday to approve their Phase 3 applications for submission to the state shortly. Whitman County’s Board of Commissioners has scheduled a meeting on Friday to review and likely approve its proposal to move forward.

All of these places have spent the required three weeks in Phase 2 without any rebound in coronavirus spread. Washington State Secretary of Health John Wiesman said he would make an in-depth review of the submissions, which could take a few days.

Map credit to Parker Miles Blohm, KNKX

Map credit to Parker Miles Blohm – KNKX

“One of the things that we’ll be looking at on Phase 3 applicants is what’s happened in the last three weeks in their communities as more businesses have opened up,” Wiesman said during a media teleconference Tuesday.

Skamania County Deputy Health Director Dr. Steven Krager told his county commissioners Wednesday that the Columbia River Gorge county easily meets the criteria to advance.

“The local hospital continues to have adequate capacity. We have easily accessible testing. We have enough PPE (personal protective equipment),” Dr Krager said. “We haven’t had any outbreaks in the community, which is great news.”

Moving up to Phase 3 in Washington state means gatherings of up to 50 people are OK, compared to a limit of no more than five friends from outside your household while at Phase 2. Libraries and museums can reopen. Swimming pools, gyms and movie theaters can reopen at 50% capacity. Restaurants bump up to 75% capacity for dine-in service and the bar areas in restaurants and taverns can partially reopen.

Wiesman said a new request he made of the leading edge applicants was to share any lessons they learned while opening up in Phase 2, details that might help other counties as they advance to the next level.

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

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

“We’re trying to get some real time lessons learned,” Wiesman said.

While the small, rural counties are set to move to Phase 3, a similar number of larger counties remain at the most restrictive Phase 1, including a swath of central Washington which experienced significant COVID-19 outbreaks recently at va