The Washington State Department of Health has approved Lewis County’s variance request to enter phase 2 of the “Safe Start Washington” plan, allowing some businesses to reopen in time for Memorial Day weekend.
The Lewis County Board of Health and the Board of County Commissioners in a special meeting on Thursday approved an application for that variance, days after Gov. Jay Inslee announced Lewis County qualified to do so.
Washington is scheduled to move to phase 2 as a state June 1.
On Friday, the application was approved by Secretary of Health John Wiesman, the county announced.
Lewis County Public Health and Social Services Director J.P. Anderson told the BOCC during Thursday’s 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.
In the letter to Anderson approving the county’s variance, Wiesman stated the county must stay in this phase for at least three weeks before moving forward.
In Phase 2, businesses that are deemed eligible to reopen can do so following the implementation of the proper health and safety guidelines as handed down by the state.
Businesses that can reopen include remaining manufacturing, additional construction, in-home services, retail stores for in-person shopping with restrictions, real estate, salons and barbers and pet grooming.
Additionally, office-based businesses are allowed to reopen, although the state encourages telecommuting wherever possible. Restaurants and taverns are allowed to re-open at half-capacity, with no more than five people at a table and no bar access.
Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund mentioned that the county being among the second wave of eligible counties to apply for the variance has given the state additional time to create the guidelines businesses are required to follow.
“When we’re opening up, the guidance is there, right now,” Fund said.
Inslee’s activity guidelines for the various businesses deemed eligible to reopen in Phase 2 are detailed at coronavirus.wa.gov. The individual guidelines were issued between May 11 and May 19.
Despite the limited reopening of businesses in the county, Wiesman encourages those in the high-risk population to continue limiting their day-to-day involvement in the local economy. According to his letter, that includes those ages 65 or older, anyone with underlying health conditions and those living in long-term care facilities.
“We’ve got one more step toward normalcy,” Fund said. “I think we’ve learned a lot about how to stay safe and now that we’re going to the next step, I think that will be very, very gratifying for people. We’ve done our due-diligence and we get to move ahead.”
The county’s application was required to outline 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.
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,” Wood said Thursday. “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.”