Gov. Jay Inslee announced May 1 Jefferson County may be able to lift restrictions on business operations sooner than other counties in the state.
Inslee announced on April 29 his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order will remain in place beyond the initial May 4 end date. In a press conference on May 1, he described the four phases by which the state will return to normal activity in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ten counties with lower case numbers and populations can move into the next phase of reopening businesses sooner, he said. With only 28 cases and no deaths, Jefferson is one of those counties.
The local public health department will decide whether the county moves into Phase 2 earlier than the rest of the state. This decision will then be forwarded to the board of county commissioners for approval.
The local health jurisdiction will need to submit plans to the state’s Department of Health, showing the county has an adequate supply of personal protective equipment and surge capacity in the hospital.
Jefferson County’s Public Health Officer, Tom Locke, will give a weekly briefing to the Board of County Commissioners at 9:45 a.m. on May 4.
“I will be discussing this at the Monday morning briefing, including the many factors that go into ‘dialing back’ the community mitigation measures,” Locke said. “One essential requirement will be expanded testing capacity, and we have had some good news on that—state supplies of specimen kits and access to lab testing have improved significantly.”
But the supply of protective equipment to the county has slowed, according to Willie Bence, director of emergency management for Jefferson County.
“We had started to see some PPE made available by the state’s Emergency Operations Center,” Bence said during the county commissioner’s weekly briefing on April 27. “I’m disappointed to report that has since slowed to a trickle.”
Another factor the local jurisdiction will need to take into consideration is Jefferson County’s older population.
“Jefferson County has one of the highest percentages of residents over the age of 65 and thus a large number of people at risk for life threatening COVID-19 complications,” Locke said. “We will need to factor all these considerations in as we move forward.”
The state government is monitoring the spread of the virus, the readiness of the health care system to handle patients, the state’s testing capacity and availability, the state’s ability to do case contact investigations, and the risk posed to vulnerable populations.
This data will help determine when the state government will move to the next “phase” of lifting restrictions.
“We will be looking at all of these metrics on a daily basis to determine when we can jump to the next phase,” Inslee said. “We’ll have three weeks at least between phases to evaluate if what we have done has worked or not.”
As of May 5, fishing, hunting, playing golf and day-use of state parks and lands is allowed, and officials are working with industry on guidance to soon allow for retail curbside pickup, automobile sales, car washes, landscaping and house cleaning services, and drive-in spiritual services with one household per vehicle.
The next phase will include additional expansions of outdoor recreation activities such as camping, small gatherings of five people or less, new construction and in-store retail purchases. Barber shops and salons will be allowed to open. Restaurants will reopen at 50% capacity and a maximum of five people per table.
Phase three will allow gatherings of 50 people or less to resume, including sporting activities. Nonessential travel will resume, restaurants will operate at 70% capacity, movie theaters and gyms will operate at 50% capacity, and retail stores, libraries, museums and government offices will reopen.
Phase four will resume the majority of public interactions. But without a vaccine, phase four will not look like life before the virus, Inslee added. Throughout all phases, social distancing and hygiene practices will need to continue.