In a four-page document weighing the benefits and risks of loosening restrictions on businesses and social gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic, Public Health Officer Tom Locke recommended the …
In a four-page document weighing the benefits and risks of loosening restrictions on businesses and social gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic, Public Health Officer Tom Locke recommended the county reopen manufacturing, new construction, domestic services and office-based businesses.
He also recommended reopening outdoor recreation involving fewer than five people — excluding overnight camping — and reopening nail and hair salons, barber shops and pet-grooming services for local clients only.
Locke recommended overnight camping, restaurants with sit-down service, real estate offices and professional services related to tourism remain closed.
This recommendation from Locke is the first step in the county’s plan to apply for a variance to the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order.
The Board of Health will review this recommendation at a public meeting at 2:30 p.m. May 14. The virtual meeting will be aired live on KPTZ radio, 91.9 FM.
Locke’s full recommendation, which details the epidemiological reasons for his decision, will be available on the Jefferson County website after this meeting.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced May 1 that 10 counties with populations fewer than 75,000 and no new coronavirus cases in the past three weeks, including Jefferson County, could move to “Phase 2” of reopening businesses and social gatherings of a certain size.
Phase 2 allows outdoor recreation such as camping and going to beaches with fewer than five people, social gatherings of no more than five people, and limited non-essential travel within proximity of one’s home. It also allows certain businesses to reopen, including manufacturing, new construction, domestic services, retail, real estate, professional services, hair and nail salons and restaurants at less than 50% of normal capacity and with tables that seat five people or less.
The county could choose to allow all, some or none of these activities. Locke’s recommendation will help officials decide which to consider. He said he made his recommendation by weighing the benefit to the economy with the risk of spreading disease.
“Manufacturing and construction activities have high economic benefit and low disease transmission risk,” Locke wrote in his recommendation, which will be available on the Jefferson County website at the end of the week.
“Leisure activities, by their nature, are less structured and more likely to violate physical distancing standards,” he wrote. “Activities that promote tourism increase coronavirus transmission risk by encouraging travel from high-prevalence areas to low-prevalence areas. This effect is magnified when these activities are not available in adjacent counties.”
The next step before the county can apply to loosen restrictions is approval of the recommendations by the board of health. The Board of County Commissioners must also approve it before the application can be sent to the state’s Department of Health.
After the board of health meeting May 14, the county will hold a joint special meeting at 5 p.m. May 19 to discuss plans to reopen. This meeting will include the board of health, city council members, county commissioners and PUD and port commissioners. Members of the public can submit comments to officials ahead of this meeting by emailing email@example.com.
Comments will not be read aloud at the joint meeting, but will be available for all to read on the county’s website.
A new case of coronavirus discovered in Jefferson County over the weekend could put all of these plans on hold, however.
Health officials confirmed a new COVID-19 patient in Jefferson County May 8.
The woman, who is over the age of 90, was released from Jefferson Healthcare May 11.
She is the first patient to be hospitalized locally.
“She is in stable condition,” Locke said.
Health officials began the case investigation and contact tracing this weekend, Locke said.
“We benefited from some of the new tools we have,” he said. “We were able to get rapid testing. We tested several suspected contacts and were able to tell within 24 hours whether they were infected or not.”
County health officials can conduct two types of “antibody” tests, he said. This allows health officials to learn if an asymptomatic person was infected. It also helps officials learn when someone was first exposed and infected with the illness.
Because of the new case, the county might no longer fit the state’s criteria for opening businesses early.
But according to Locke, there has been discussion at the state level as to whether this criteria is valid. Several counties, including Mason and Stevens, have applied to move to Phase 2 of reopening, even though they did not fit within the governor’s criteria.
Kittitas County, one of the original 10 counties allowed to apply for a variance, has now had an outbreak at a meatpacking plant where 35 people were confirmed to be infected.
“Zero cases is not a realistic goal for anyone,” Locke said. “I think it’s highly likely that the state will adopt alternate criteria.”
According to Locke, it is unclear whether Jefferson County remains eligible for a Phase 2 variation; eligibility will be determined by the Secretary of Health, John Wiesman.