Columbia County will seek permission this week from the state to advance to Phase 3 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phased plan to reopen the Washington economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
County commissioners and the Columbia County Board of Health voted unanimously Monday to accept public health officer Dr. Larry Jecha’s letter recommending the county move to Phase 3.
“We’ve met the requirements,” county Commissioner Charles Amerein said. “Our public health department tells us that we can meet the stipulations in the guidance for moving to Phase 3 as put forth by the governor. So, we’re going to apply and see how that works out.”
Amerein said the application would be submitted to Washington’s secretary of health by the end of today.
Phase 3 allows more businesses to open and relaxes some restrictions on those that have already opened. Restaurants, for example, are allowed to increase capacity from 50% to 75%. Theaters, libraries and museums will also reopen.
Gatherings of up to 50 people are also allowed in Phase 3.
Jecha attended the meeting remotely and offered verbal support of the application. He credited Martha Lanman, Columbia County’s public health administrator, and her staff for the county being ready.
“They have done well,” Jecha said. “We have had no new cases. They are ready to pounce on anything we do get. The hospitals are ready, so I see no reason that Columbia County should not go to Phase 3.”
Columbia County was one of the first counties in the state to move to Phase 2 on May 8. Inslee’s Safe Start program requires a county to spend at least three weeks in each phase. Columbia County reached that milestone on Friday.
Dayton Chamber of Commerce Manager Molly Weatherill-Tate says she supports the move.
“We have only had that one case of COVID way back in March,” Weatherill-Tate said. “That shows that the county has been diligent as far as making sure we are following the guidelines.”
Weatherill-Tate says if the county does move on to Phase 3, she hopes people keep up that diligence.
“I know that everyone is anxious to get going, but I think we still need to be cautious to make sure we don’t have to go backwards,” Weatherill-Tate said.
Under Inslee’s new directive introduced last week, any county may apply to move to its next phase. Hard requirements have been replaced by softer targets. Applications will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
Targets include having fewer than 25 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people over a 14-day period and having the capacity to test 50 times as many people who have tested positive for the virus over the past week.
With only one confirmed case of COVID-19, Columbia County easily meets these targets.