10 more Washington counties identified for early reopening eligibility

May 19, 2020
Originally published on May 19, 2020 12:52 pm

Gov. Inslee on Tuesday said that 10 additional counties are eligible to apply to loosen some social distancing restrictions in place to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

State officials have also outlined the criteria for moving into the second phase of reopening, which could allow in-store retail and restaurant dining to resume with certain limitations.

Kitsap, Spokane, Thurston, Lewis, Clark, Clallam, Adams, Mason, Island, and San Juan counties are newly eligible to apply with the state Department of Health to move into phase two of the state's four-phase approach to reopening.

As of Monday, ten of Washington's 39 counties have been given the green light to move into the second reopening phase, and 22 total are eligible. That phase could allow restaurants to host patrons at 50% capacity, with parties no larger than five to a table. Additionally, gatherings of five or less, new construction projects, and pet grooming services could be permitted.

The criteria for eligibility requires a county to have less than 10 new cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 residents, over the span of 14 days. Additionally, hospitals serving a given county must have at least 20% surge capacity and a 14-day supply of personal protective equipment for health care workers.

The phase two application process, outlined by state health secretary John Wiesman, begins with local health officers recommending whether their county is ready to move forward to the local health board. If the board votes to move the process forward, hospitals are surveyed about capacity.

The ball then lands in the county commissioners' court, where a vote must occur. If that vote is favorable, a local health department begins putting together an application that outlines Covid-19 testing capacity to be reviewed by the state.

"How many tests they're actually doing, how they are sharing access for folks who might be uninsured — who might have other languages —and to make sure that folks who traditionally are underserved have equal access to testing, both in terms of the fees and the services that are available," Wiesman said.

State officials will also expect candidates to demonstrate a capacity to conduct contact tracing within a 24 to 48-hour window, and provide supports for sick people required to isolate — sometimes outside of their own homes for the safety of others. Counties must also show they can adequately investigate and respond to outbreaks in places such as long-term care facilities and workplaces.

Inslee said the same criteria for moving into phase two applies to all of the state's counties for now. However, that criteria "is always subject to change depending on what's happening with the virus," he said.

The governor has urged people living elsewhere not to flock to smaller counties as they begin early reopening.

"It really is important for people not to overload those smaller communities in their restaurants or otherwise," Inslee said. "It's really a time to remain close to home. And we know some of these smaller communities have tried to reiterate that with us so that they are not overwhelmed."