An application that would allow a partial reopening of Lewis County’s local economy is off to Olympia.
The Lewis County Board of Health and the Board of County Commissioners in a special meeting on Thursday approved a variance application that, if approved by Secretary of Health John Wiesman, would allow the county to move into Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start Washington” reopening plan before June 1.
Lewis County Public Health and Social Services Director J.P. Anderson told the BOCC during the meeting that he felt “very confident” the application would be approved.
“I think it’s important to think about our variance application in terms of going to Phase 2 but also in that it lays the framework for our readiness going forward,” Anderson said.
He added that the county was still compiling letters of support from various mayors and other officials from around the county at 10 a.m. Thursday morning.
Additionally, Inslee’s reopening plan states the county’s application needs to detail its plans for testing accessibility and availability, the number of tests administered per week over the last three weeks and the extent of the personnel trained to conduct case investigations.
Anderson said the county’s partnership with Valley View Health Center helps in meeting those criteria.
“With Valley View, we have a partner who can help us meet that requirement and can help us be ready in not just the short term for a variance, but in the long term for this fight,” Anderson said.
Valley View Health Center CEO Gaelon Spradley said the aforementioned work concerning the COVID-19 response that would be done with the county aligned with what Valley View aims to accomplish as a community health center.
“I think the work is absolutely up our alley,” Spradley told the BOCC. “It is work that is in support of our mission as a community health center, it supports our desire to be collaborative with the community and I think it’s also the kind of work that is meaningful for our staff to participate in.”
In addition to the application, Public Health Officer Dr. Rachel Wood was required to submit a signed letter of recommendation for the application to be submitted.
She said she was “very excited” to be able to write the letter and commended the efforts by the county to fulfill the obligations, such as providing isolation and quarantine options for those who need options aside from a personal residence, required by Gov. Inslee’s guidelines.
“I actually was reading the (100-page application) draft that everyone has worked so hard on last night,” Dr. Wood said. “I was, once again, very impressed with this community and how we have all pulled together and have made allowances for feeding seniors, congregate places to quarantine and have bent over backwards on ways we can get back in the field.”
Lewis County Commissioner Bobby Jackson commended the efforts of the health department and everyone involved in getting the variance application ready to submit.
“You guys did a completely thorough job, this is well put together, it’s well thought out and you have my thanks for working so hard,” Jackson said. “This is an amazing document.”
Anderson mentioned that following Thursday’s meeting, a PDF of the 100-page application would be submitted to Secretary Wiesman for review with a request that he look through the county’s application as soon as possible.
He also added he’s already inquired about the possible steps for a variance into Phase 3. Dr. Wood, though, acknowledged the state requirements and the process to apply might change as the work to reopen continues.
“I would love to have certainty,” Dr. Wood said. “But, our human species has never seen this virus before. We can’t characterize how long it lasts. I mean, I live in concern that in two years, we’ll learn about some lingering neurological issue. We don’t know how this is going to unfold.”
Still, Anderson took the time to applaud the work it took to get to where the county is currently.
“Every person in public health had to work hard to make sure this was ready,” Anderson said. “We’ve had to fill in for each other, in places we never planned to and have had to work under different conditions. This is still the beginning of a long race for your public health department.”