Five counties in Washington approved to move to Phase 2 of reopening early

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Washington state authorities said Friday they approved applications from five counties to move into Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start plan early.

The five counties are Columbia, Garfield, Lincoln, Ferry and Pend Oreille.

“We recognize COVID-19 is impacting some parts of our state in different ways and some counties will be ready to move forward earlier than others,” Washington State Secretary of Health  Secretary Wiesman said. “While recognizing that reality, we set cautious, thorough requirements for counties that want to apply for a variance. Each of the counties approved to enter Phase 2 has demonstrated strong planning and capability in the areas necessary to protect public health in their communities.”

According to the Washington State Joint Information Center, businesses in these counties must not reopen until "guidance has been released for their industry on how to keep workers and the public safe. They must comply with all health and safety requirements outlined in that guidance to reopen."

"In addition to the counties approved today, Kittitas, Skamania, and Wahkiakum Counties have applied for a variance and their applications are under review," authorities wrote in a news release. "Stevens County has applied, however they are not yet eligible based on the outlined criteria. The state is still working to determine when and how counties with a Phase 2 variance can move to Phase 3, and considering additional options to support different regional needs in reopening.

"To apply for a variance, counties must have a population of less than 75,000 and no new cases of COVID-19 in the last three weeks. The application process requires support from the local health officer, the local board of health, local hospitals, and the county commission/council."

Each county must demonstrate they have adequate local hospital bed capacity as well as adequate PPE supplies to keep health care workers safe. The application must include plans for:

Each county must apply and prove that they have enough hospital beds and PPE (personal protective equipment) to keep health car workers safe. They must also demonstrate plans for:

    'Stay Home, Stay Healthy'

    The state’s stay-at-home order — in place since March 23 — has been extended by Inslee through at least May 31, though restrictions have been eased in some areas and will continue to lifted in phases over the next few months.

    Day use activities at most state parks and some outdoor recreation like hunting, golfing and fishing resumed Tuesday. Previously Inslee announced the resumption of existing construction projects, and retail curbside pickup, automobile sales and car washes can start by mid-May. The next phase, expected to start June 1, would allow camping, new construction, and in-store retail purchases, with restrictions. Barbershops and salons could also reopen at that time, and restaurants could reopen at half capacity and table sizes limited to five.

    There will be a minimum of three weeks between each phase, though Inslee said some counties with lower numbers of cases and deaths may be able to move to the second phase of the reopening schedule if approved by the Department of Health.

    Nationwide, roughly 33.5 million people have now filed for jobless aid in the seven weeks since the coronavirus began forcing millions of companies to close their doors and slash their workforces.

    More than 16,300 people in Washington state have tested positive for the virus and at least 905 have died. The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, and the vast majority recover. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness and death in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.