'Pretty excruciating': Kittitas County in limbo, waiting for Phase 2 reopening

ELLENSBURG, Wash. -- Fourteen counties have been given the go ahead to move to Phase 2 of reopening, while other counties with low numbers - like Kittitas - still don't have an answer.

Phase 2 of reopening under Gov. Jay Inslee's plan allows for things like nail and hair salons to reopen, along with restaurants at 50 percent capacity.

"The majority of what we're hearing is that people are really struggling and really wanting Phase 2 right now. They wanted phase two when we applied, so having to wait three weeks has been pretty excruciating in our county," says Kasey Knutson, public information of Kittitas County Public Health.

After submitting their application three weeks ago, it seemed like a sure thing. After all, the entire county only had 16 cases total.

"And then we had an outbreak," says Knutson.

The outbreak earlier this month at Twin City Foods moved the county's cases from 16 to 66 and put their application for the variance on pause.

Public health officials say they're confident the outbreak is under control, and hope the state will see that and give them the green light by May 26.

If the state denies the application, some says businesses will reopen anyways.

"It's not even a threat on saying that, its not trying to be disrespectful, unfortunately people cannot continue to go on like this, says Jessica Karraker, who's running for Kittitas County Public Commissioner.

Karraker created a group called the Kittitas County People's Coalition, with roughly 900 followers.

Though her auto shop has been able to remain open during the pandemic, she says business is still badly hurting.

"The entire goal of this shutdown was to flatten the curve, the goal was to not overrun our hospitals, that never happened in Kittitas County. Now we're being punished by a phase approach, we did what we were asked to do, the carrots always there, and the goal post and the carrot continues to move, when is enough enough?"

Karraker says the outbreak shouldn't keep the county at a standstill.

"Every single business owner that I know in this county wants our community to remain safe and healthy. The ones that were shut down were never given the opportunity to show that they could, in fact, keep their customers, clients, and their families safe and healthy ... we're never going to go back to how it was before the virus outbreak,  just like 9/11, we never went back to what airports were like after the emergency, so I want us to give the opportunity to give small business owners to do the right thing and to reopen safely."

The Kittitas Public Health Department says their citizens frustration is understandable, and they see how much it's affecting so many.

"It's not just physical health, it's emotional health, its financial health, it's all of those things," says Knutson.