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
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.