Whitman County on Wednesday submitted to the state its request to enter into Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s phased reopening of Washington.
The request must receive approval from the Washington state Secretary of Health. Whitman County Director of Public Health Troy Henderson said Wednesday he expects to hear the secretary of health’s decision in about five days.
Phase 2 allows in-store retail operations to resume with limitations. Dine-in restaurants and taverns can open at 50 percent capacity and must follow strict social distancing and cleanliness guidelines. Manufacturing businesses may also operate under strict guidelines. The state has yet to release guidelines for salons.
Under the governor’s “Safe Start” plan, counties with a population less than 75,000 can get approval to move to Phase 2 if they have not had a new COVID-19 case in three weeks. Whitman County met that requirement because it has not had a confirmed COVID-19 case since April 22. There have been 16 total positive COVID-19 test results.
Whitman County Commissioner Michael Largent said he feels the balance between public health and public safety is being adequately met by the county, and said it is a “no-brainer” to support this application.
“Some of these businesses are in economic crisis and the sooner that we can safely reopen portions of the county, the better,” he said.
Henderson said it is still to be determined whether counties that move to Phase 2 sooner are also allowed to move to Phase 3 before the rest of the state.
Henderson also said it is undetermined whether new COVID-19 cases in Whitman County would force the state to rescind the county’s variance. Henderson said he thinks the state would consider factors such as the county’s response to new cases and if the number of cases are growing.
“I don’t think it’s any absolute number,” he said. “I think it’s more how you’re responding and your ability to respond.”
He said the Whitman County Board of Health also has the authority to enact more stringent requirements should the situation devolve.
Pullman Regional Hospital CEO Scott Adams issued a letter to the Whitman County Board of Health assuring that it has adequate bed capacity and personal protective equipment to respond to a surge in COVID-19 patients.
Dr. Brad Bowman, Whitman County Health Officer, issued a letter recommending the county request a variance to enter Phase 2.
For more information about Phase 2 requirements, visit www.governor.wa.gov.
Anthony Kuipers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.