Clark County is preparing an application to move to the second phase of the state’s COVID-19 recovery plan, which would allow restaurants, barbershops, tattoo parlors and many other businesses to reopen with safety measures in place.
At a Tuesday press conference, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that Clark County and nine other counties are eligible to apply for a variance to move into Phase 2 sooner than expected.
Adams, Spokane, Mason, Thurston, Lewis, Clallam, Kitsap, Island and San Juan counties were also approved for an expedited return. Clark and Spokane counties are the two largest counties eligible for Phase 2 in Washington.
“There’s a variety of metrics on this, but given where we are, we feel pretty comfortable that if we apply for the variance, we have a pretty good shot at being able to move to Phase 2,” said Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick.
Melnick said there is no definitive timetable for when Clark County will move into Phase 2, but he said the county is working to make it happen as soon as possible. For now, Phase 1 restrictions remain in place.
Under Phase 2, restaurants could operate at 50 percent capacity, with no table size larger than five people. Bar areas would remain closed. Camping would be allowed. Gatherings would be restricted to five or fewer people.
Nannying, housecleaning and other domestic services would be allowed, as would real estate activity and some in-store retail purchases.
All 10 counties had fewer than 10 new cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day span, the criteria that deemed counties eligible. Clark County has 412 confirmed cases, and 25 deaths. The county has averaged around eight cases per day the last two weeks, as cases have dropped off significantly since mid-April.
To be approved for Phase 2, counties need to show they have the proper infrastructure in place with adequate coronavirus testing, personal protective equipment for medical workers, ample hospital capacity and enough contact monitors and case investigators to track outbreaks.
Inslee has already approved Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Skamania, Stevens, Wahkiakum and Whitman counties for Phase 2. Grays Harbor and Jefferson counties were previously approved for variances, but have not had applications approved yet.
Earlier this month, Inslee said three weeks was the fastest a county could move from one phase to the next, if infection metrics were positive. That meant June 1 was the soonest counties could enter Phase 2. But on Tuesday, Inslee said there are some counties with growing outbreaks that might stay in Phase 1 past June 1.
The county’s application for Phase 2 will require approval from the Clark County Board of Health, before it is submitted to the state Department of Health for approval.
In order to meet the state’s criteria, Melnick said Clark County will need supporting letters from the two local hospitals to show the county has adequate capacity and resources to handle a resurgence of COVID-19 cases. The county has four people hospitalized for the virus, and two people in an intensive care unit.
The Clark County Council implemented another key part of the county’s application at its meeting Tuesday, when it approved a $9.19 million budget hike for Public Health’s COVID-19 response. The money is reimbursable through CARES Act funding.
Clark County will contract with the Public Health Institute, a California non-profit, to help supply contact notifiers, who will identify community members that need to be isolated. The county can scale up or scale down the number of contact notifiers it needs, depending on infection rates.
Melnick said contracting with Public Health Institute will speed up the process of getting contact notifiers to work.
The council also approved hiring Public Health nurses to work on case investigation.
“I’m really excited about the fact that we can move forward,” Council Chair Eileen Quiring said.
Councilors cautioned, though, that individual residents should continue good hygiene and distancing practices, regardless of what phase the county is in.
“We want to make sure we’re doing it safely,” Councilor John Blom said. “It’s nice to have the option, but it’s up to us to do our homework.”
More specific information about the county’s next steps are expected this morning at the Clark County Board of Health meeting.
“We want to move this along as quickly as possible,” Melnick said. “For some people, every day is really critical in terms of their employment and business, so if we think it’s safe enough we are going to move really quickly on that.”