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June 2, 2020

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Clark County’s application for eased COVID restrictions should be ready within a week

County hopes to move to Phase 2 of recovery program

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

Clark County could apply for an easing of state pandemic-related restrictions on county residents and businesses early next week, if not sooner.

The timeline for applying to move into Phase 2 of the state’s recovery program was discussed at Wednesday morning’s Clark County Board of Health meeting. While there is no definitive date for submission, every councilor expressed the desire to apply as soon as possible, as did Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick.

Clark County Councilor Gary Medvigy and Chair Eileen Quiring expressed a desire to have the application submitted before the end of this week if feasible.

Melnick did not rule out that possibility but said the application process is “onerous.”

Discussion from the meeting indicated that submitting the application early next week was the likelier scenario.

“People are really ready to do this,” Quiring said. “Small business owners are ready.”

Layers of approval

Once Public Health has compiled the information for the application, it would need approval from the Board of Health and the County Council, which would likely give it a go-head in consecutive meetings.

Once it receives county approval, the application will be submitted to the state Department of Health for approval. It’s unclear how fast the state would review the application, but Melnick said it should be turned around in “days.”

Fast approval would put Clark County on pace to enter the more relaxed phase around the end of May or the first week of June.

Under Phase 2, restaurants could operate at 50 percent capacity, with no table size larger than for 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 barbershops, beauty salons, tattoo parlors, real estate activity and some in-store retail purchases.

Clark County, along with Spokane County, are the two biggest counties in Washington that are eligible to apply for the eased restrictions. Clark County qualified to apply because it had fewer than 10 new cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day span. The county added three new cases and no new deaths Wednesday. It has 415 confirmed cases and 25 deaths.

Criteria outlined

At Wednesday’s meeting, Melnick outlined the criteria required to enter the next phase. The county will need a robust case investigation and contact notification team to track outbreaks. On Tuesday, the council approved a contract that would allow Public Health Institute, a California nonprofit, to supply Public Health with workers for contact notification.

Melnick said the contract is being finalized. The contract would allow for the county to scale up or scale down on staff, depending on the infection rates.

Both local hospitals are preparing letters for the application to certify they have the requirements in place that are needed for Phase 2, Melnick said. Those include having a 14-day supply of personal protective equipment and having enough capacity to handle a resurgence in coronavirus cases.

Five people were hospitalized with the virus as of Wednesday, and two people were in an intensive care unit.

There are also requirements that the county has a quarantine location for its unhoused population, or those who can’t quarantine at home because they live with someone who is medically vulnerable. The county’s Motel 6 quarantine site in east Vancouver, which has 54 rooms, should fill that requirement.

Data encouraging

Melnick also outlined the ideal target for testing, and recent data is encouraging. The county aims to perform 50 tests per confirmed case, with a percent of positive tests at 2 percent or lower. The county has exceeded those metrics this month.

For the week ending on May 2, the county had 23 positive cases, which meant it needed to perform at least 1,150 tests that week. It conducted 1,583 tests, with a 1.47 percent positivity rate. For the week ending on May 9, the county had 26 positive tests, which moved the target to 1,300 tests that week. There were 1,583 tests administered that week, with 1.64 percent positivity rate.

Since April 18, the county has a 2.55 percent positivity rate out of 5,577 tests performed.

“I’m really gratified that we are meeting the testing metric and this should help us with our application,” Melnick said.

Another metric measures Public Health’s ability to test in congregate settings such as jails and long-term care facilities. The county has been conducting universal testing in long-term care facilities that have a confirmed case, and has tested in other congregate settings.

“Our (application) will hopefully be so perfect that it will be a quick review,” Melnick said.

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