Lewis County officials — with backup from Southwest Washington’s U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler — are stepping up their opposition to a state-run quarantine and isolation facility in Centralia.
This week, county commissioners formally asked the state to relocate.
The state Department of Health (DOH) recently moved its COVID-19 isolation and quarantine facility from Thurston County to Lewis County, leasing out the Lakeview Inn and prompting backlash from city and county officials, who say they were never consulted about the plan.
In letters to Gov. Jay Inslee and Health Secretary Umair Shah, commissioners repeated their disappointment in the state’s lack of outreach and expressed “deep concern” about the facility, arguing that “Lewis County should not have to bear the burden of solving the state’s poor disaster-management decisions.”
“We do not have the capacity to host this facility on behalf of the state. We do not want this facility here. Our constituents do not want this facility here,” commissioners Sean Swope, Gary Stamper and Lindsey Pollock wrote.
They continued to argue that the facility might burden the county’s “already taxed” local health infrastructure.
“We already struggle with bed space, and patients often must be housed in the emergency room at Providence Centralia Hospital until a regular bed becomes available. Because the Lakeview quarantine facility is designed to house individuals already at a higher risk of requiring medical care, its presence could further strain our resources — including bed capacity — and negatively affect the care we can provide for Lewis County residents,” they wrote.
The Department of Health has been working to quell those concerns since the topic of the quarantine facility was brought up in a Centralia city council meeting late last month.
DOH spokesman Cory Portner said the facility does not pose a threat to overrunning Lewis County’s hospitals. Since the state agency began operating COVID-19 quarantine and isolation facilities in February 2020, only three people have been transported to a hospital, according to the department of health.
DOH is reviewing the county’s letter, and while the agency has leased the motel out until December, Portner said the isolation and quarantine facility “is still considered temporary, as it is not a permanent location for state-provided isolation and quarantine services.”
He added that isolation and quarantine “are important interventions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to help end the pandemic.”
The 40-room facility could serve a range of individuals who have tested positive or been exposed to COVID-19 and who do not necessarily fall into the jurisdiction of any one county. That includes international travelers who test positive upon arrival at Washington airports, work-release inmates, crewmembers from ships docked in ports, military personnel waiting to deploy, or residents whose counties don’t have capacity to offer them a place to quarantine.
In its first week, the motel was only housing four patients.
In an email, a spokesman from the governor’s office said the question of the facility’s location was best suited for DOH. He also added:
“The state response to COVID has saved thousands of lives, including lives in Lewis County. State officials have everyone’s health and safety in mind when they make these kinds of decisions.”
DOH officials chose Lakeview Inn from a shortlist of 13 facilities. One factor, along with location and ventilation, was the existence of a willing owner.
In their letters, Lewis County commissioners also pointed to state statute limiting state health officials authorities, with exceptions during public health emergencies.
“While we are facing an unprecedented emergency,” they wrote, “the state simply does not have the authority to take over functions local health jurisdictions can — and currently do — manage.”
They go on to urge the state to place their facility in a county where out-of-state patients enter Washington — like through King County’s SeaTac airport — instead of “dropping one unannounced in Lewis County.”
Soon after commissioners sent their letter, Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, sent her own correspondence to Inslee lambasting the state for giving “the local community virtually no notice and (providing) no opportunity to comment before opening the facility.”
“I have met with a number of these local residents and business owners who were shocked to first learn in the local newspaper about the state’s decision to open this facility on a Wednesday, and then find out that it was up and running 48 hours later,” the sixth-term representative wrote.
Herrera Beutler also demanded answers to several questions around why the facility was located at the Lakeview Inn instead of Maple Lane, a state-owned former youth detention facility, why officials chose a spot “in a commercial area right in the I-5 corridor,” whether economic impacts were considered, and if the agency has the authority to locate the facility “without the consent of the local governments and population.”
“When the state fails to provide transparency and the opportunity for a community I represent to weigh in before taking action like this, I’m left with little choice but to stand up for them, demand accountability and urge the state to respond appropriately to all of their concerns,” she wrote.