Jeff Co now eligible for Phase 3

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Three weeks after moving to Phase 2 of Governor Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start” COVID-19 recovery plan, Jefferson County is now eligible to apply for Phase 3.

The Jefferson County Board of Health will meet to discuss the move to Phase 3 at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, June 18. The board will make a recommendation to move to the next phase, and outline which businesses can reopen. This will be followed by a special meeting of the Board of Commissioners at 1 p.m. on Friday,
June 19 to approve or reject the Board of Health’s recommendation.

Phase 3 allows gatherings of 50 or fewer people, including sporting events; non-essential travel; restaurants at 75 percent capacity with a table size of 10 or fewer; bars at 25 percent capacity; gyms and movie theaters at 50 percent capacity. Retail, libraries, museums, and government buildings can open. Pools and recreation centers can open at 50 percent capacity and camping would also open.

High-risk populations — those who are immunocompromised or older than 65 — should continue to stay home, even in Phase 3.

Public Health Officer Tom Locke recommended the county move forward with a full Phase 3 variance application without restrictions.

“Risk can never be eliminated; it can only be controlled,” Locke wrote in his recommendation. “The time will never be better than it is now to further open businesses and community activities. The warming weather and greater amount of time spent outdoors reduces the risk of virus transmission.”

He pointed out that the community has learned a lot about pandemic response, and the public health and medical care systems are prepared for potential new cases.

“The community is eager for greater freedom,” Locke said. “Businesses need to survive and, hopefully, prosper. Phase 3 will be an extraordinary challenge, more difficult than many imagine. But challenges are best met headon, not deferred.”

On Sunday, June 14, health officials started investigating a new case of coronavirus in
Jefferson County.

Locke said it appears transmission of the virus in this new case likely occurred within the county.

“There might be some multi-state links involved,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of contacts, and a number of potential sources.”

While many counties in Western Washington are seeing the number of cases level off, Locke said eastern counties are seeing continued increases.

“In Washington state it’s looking like we may be moving out of the leveling-off phase into an increasing phase,” Locke said. “There’s some very concerning things going on in Eastern Washington. Especially in Yakima, Benton, and Franklin counties, things are looking like they were looking in King County and Seattle back in March.”
The rate of growth is not only increasing, but increasing exponentially, he said. This could be due to the agricultural industry in Eastern Washington.

“You have a migratory workforce, living conditions that are often very crowded — sometimes substandard — impaired access to healthcare and optimal sanitation,” Locke said. “In terms of production facilities, the poultry and meatpacking plants are designed for people to work in very close proximity.”

Locke said the growth of cases cannot be attributed to protests and rallies that have occurred across the country in the past few weeks.

“There’s a two- to three-week lag between events that can increase transmission and when we can actually measure it,” he said. “If there’s going to be a surge related to the racial justice demonstrations that have been occurring, this week is when we would start to see that.”

While protesters attempted to be mindful of social distancing and wearing masks, Locke said the police’s use of tear gas, which can cause coughing and respiratory distress, could increase risk of transmission.

“People being locked up in holding cells is also a risk for exposure,” he said.

As counties move to loosen restrictions, citizens are also suffering from what Locke calls “quarantine fatigue.”

“While adherence to social distancing and shelter-at-home directives were remarkably high in the early days of the pandemic, adherence to these restrictions seems to be diminishing,” he said. “Some community members have chosen to believe that the pandemic is over. Some have chosen to believe that violation of physical distancing and masking directives is an expression of personal liberty and risks only their personal health. They are wrong on both accounts.”

Locke emphasized the importance of wearing masks, practicing social distancing of 6 feet from others, and continuing to use sanitation practices such as frequent hand washing.

Willie Bence, director of Jefferson County’s Emergency Management Department, said the county will receive 18,000 masks from the state’s emergency operations center in the coming weeks. Two masks each will be distributed to low-income citizens of the county.

In addition, Bence said community members continue to sew homemade cloth masks. These can be donated to the Jefferson County Emergency Operations Center, and will be distributed at grocery stores and other locations around the county.

“The sustainability of the reopening efforts are going to depend not on what public health professionals can do, but whether the public does the critical part in controlling transmission,” Locke said.

Jefferson County officials hope to synchronize the move to Phase 3 with Kitsap and Clallam counties. Both counties become eligible for Phase 3 on June 18.

Comments

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Marge samuelson

Governor Jay Inslee just made it mandatory to wear masks when in public places. This is for the entire state of Washington. Yakima County has seen a tremendous number of new cases. My son was in Eastern Washington recently and said it was if there were no coronavirus. The only way to contain this is to follow CDC protocols which is what our governor is doing. Until there is a vaccine we need to keep wearing masks and distancing. The sooner everyone follows the mask order the sooner we will be out of this.

Tuesday, June 23
Larry Kallenberger

I did my own survey at Safeway this week and I agree that between 10 and 20 percent of shoppers were not wearing masks. I tracked down the manager to make sure they knew that masks are a requirement in Jefferson County since several employees, while masked, did not know they were required by the county. The manager told me that due to the last exemption on the list of legitimate reasons not to wear a mask they could not question people or demand they wear masks. That exception was for people whose physician has advised them that they should not wear a mask if they have issues with breathing easily. They have been instructed by the corporation that due to HIPPA regulations they are not allowed to question people or require them to wear a mask.

Many stores downtown have standardized signage that is easy to read and well explained. They also seem to have someone watching people enter to ensure compliance. Safeway has barely noticeable signage and nobody at the door suggesting that people wear masks. So if you think you are going to mandate mask wearing, which I support, you will need to address this issue. Safeway cites the exception listed in the Health Department mask requirement allowing people not to wear masks if a doctor tells them they have breathing problems as the reason they cannot enforce mask requirements. As a practical matter it would be difficult to ask low income people to pay for a doctors visit to receive a written statement about breathing issues. Still if ALL stores would show sincere efforts to properly sign the store and have a human talking to folks about mask requirements we would achieve better compliance. Honestly I shop at the Coop over 90% of the time and I have never seen a single person there without a protective mask.

I suspect Safeway doesn’t want to offend or lose any shoppers but as the likely busiest store in town their lack of mask information easily seen and the lack of monitoring on entry will cause wider non compliance as people who don’t want to wear masks will see that they aren’t really required. I think that the enforcement has to be done by the business itself and penalties for noncompliance need to be directed there as well if this is to be a county wide requirement. I think we need to remain in Phase 2 until we have an order that clarifies enforcement responsibility. Without that Jefferson County risks slipping back into Phase 2 anyway. Most people here have been great at looking out for each other and recognizing that mask wearing is about good citizenship in a community that is 20 years older than the average age of other counties in the state and national.

I am a combat veteran and the fight was about liberty for our nation not the right to refuse to do anything you don’t wish to do. That is merely whining about a personal problem. Refusing to wear a mask in public settings when it will save lives is not a struggle for our liberty but rather a selfish expression of disregard for others who are just trying to stay healthy. Are you sure you want your fight for liberty to be over your personal problem with wearing a mask? Is that really the fight you think will make our nation stronger and more free? Hold onto your emotions and accept that you can survive without having to get your personal way on every urge that presents itself.

Wednesday, June 24
Jacky Shepherd

I strongly agree with the the other twp comments. I have been in both Safeway and QFC and I see employees wearing masks but at other times they are not. Actually, more employees at QFC wear them then Safeway.

I have seen a lot of customers in both stores and both locations at QFC NOT wearing a mask at all!

As far as Safeway saying they go by the department of health...IT IS a Jefferson County law and now it is a WA STATE law. I know people who are claustrophobic but yet they wear the mask.

People can not just puck and choose what rules they want to follow. Especially with Yakima having high spikes.

Not all restaurants are open they are still serving take out.

It's not just what what you as a person wants or feels. Its about others. Friends, Family.. Just wear the mask and follow the rules and please follow the arrows at the stores and go down the right aisles

Wednesday, June 24
Justin Hale

"Governor Jay Inslee just made it mandatory to wear masks when in public places."

Correction Marge ,,,,"Jay Inslee (D) announced on Tuesday a mandatory order requiring face coverings be worn in all indoor public spaces and outdoors if physical distancing can't be maintained."

Thursday, June 25