Walla Walla County has received approval from the secretary of the Department of Health to enter Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s economic reopening plan.
The letter from Secretary John Wiesman was posted on social media by Commissioner Greg Tompkins.
“The Department of Health has approved Walla Walla County’s variance application with conditions to move to Phase 2,” Tompkins wrote.
The Washington state Department of Health said Walla Walla is one of three counties announced for approval this morning. With Kittitas and Thurston counties, Washington now has 24 counties approved for Phase 2.
Fellow Commissioner Todd Kimball also shared the news on his social media.
“If your business is prepared to follow the governor’s guidelines for your industry, you will be allowed to open effective immediately,” he wrote.
Walla Walla joins neighbors in Columbia County to the north and Umatilla County across the Oregon state line as it eases out of restrictions on business operations, a move Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kyle Tarbet called “a huge step for our employers.”
“Especially those who have been completely shut down,” Tarbet said just before joining a meeting this morning with the local unified COVID-19 command response team.
He encouraged businesses to be cautious with guidelines and stick to a solid plan that allows customers and employees to remain safe while the virus is still a threat.
He said the Chamber’s website would be updated with advice and tools for businesses regarding Phase 2.
The latest step allows recreational, social and business activities with the implementation of safety restrictions from the Safe Start plan.
Previously deemed “nonessential” businesses will be permitted to open, and gatherings of up to five people outside of the household per week will be allowed.
Openings include dine-in restaurants at 50% capacity, in-store retail, professional services, real estate operations, pet grooming businesses, fitness training facilities and more.
Professional services include accountants, architects, attorneys, engineers, financial advisors, information technologists, insurance agents, tax preparers and others.
Personal services like hairstylists, barbers and nail salons will be allowed to open. In-home domestic services like nannies and housecleaning services are included as well.
All construction, including new work, will be allowed.
Outdoor recreation including camping will also be permitted.
“People in high risk populations are strongly encouraged to limit their participation in these Phase 2 activities and business services,” according to the letter.
High risk populations include people 65 and older or people of all ages with underlying medical conditions. Other populations at high risk are those living in long term care facilities and nursing homes.
The Department of Community Health partnered with the Chamber and the cities of Walla Walla and College Place to host “Town Hall” sessions via Zoom on Phase 2 reopening guidelines for various sectors. These videos can be found on the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce website, according to a release.
Questions for Department of Community Health Director Meghan DeBolt could not be answered. Kimball said only the county’s joint command public information officer is able to reply to media questions about the health aspects of Phase 2.
There was no response by press time to requests for comments this morning.
Among the reopening health requirements outlined by state officials: Restaurants must make hand sanitizer available at entries for staff and customers and eliminate buffets and salad bars at this time; businesses must keep rigorous sanitizing schedules; clothing stores must disinfect dressing rooms in between customers.
According to Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start” plan, all businesses operating during Phase 2 have a general obligation to keep a safe and healthy facility and comply with the COVID-19 worksite-specific safety practices.
All businesses are required to post signs at their entrances to strongly encourage customers to use cloth face coverings when inside and to maintain a 6-foot separation from other people, stagger employee breaks and provide appropriate personal protective equipment to employees.
Employees are allowed to refuse unsafe work, including hazards created by COVID-19, without fear of retaliation, the state has said.