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Walla Walla County preps for mid-June move to Phase 3

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This story has been modified since its original publication.

The soonest Walla Walla County could reach Phase 3 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start” plan is June 17, Walla Walla County’s chief health official said Monday.

The update was provided during the county commissioners’ meeting Monday by Meghan DeBolt, director of Walla Walla County Department of Community Health.

She received initial documents to apply for the next phase from the state, she said, and will work on them.

About 4% of those tested for COVID-19 in Walla Walla County have been positive, she said.

She also said there are no guarantees for continuing into Phase 3. Progress depends on the numbers of positive cases, which must be fewer than 25 cases per 100,000 in a 14-day period.

Commissioner Todd Kimball said he wants the documents submitted to the state “as soon as possible,” assuming positive numbers stay low.

However, DeBolt said the county must remain in each phase for three weeks before advancing, and it is best to wait until a couple of days before eligibility before applying, as the documents would need to be amended if the county wasn’t ready.

Walla Walla County moved into Phase 2 of the plan last Wednesday.

According to Inslee’s plan, the minimum of three weeks per phase allows public health experts to monitor the impacts of reopening.

Among the items allowed under Phase 3 are outdoor group recreation sports with 50 or fewer people, recreational facilities such as public pools at no more than 50% capacity, professional sports with no audiences, gatherings with a maximum of 50 people, nonessential travel, restaurants/taverns with 75% capacity or less and tables no bigger than seating for 10, bars in restaurants at 25% capacity, movie theaters at 50% capacity, libraries, museums and others.

More information about Phase 3 can be found at ubne.ws/waphases.

People locally are preparing.

“In looking ahead to Phase 3, it appears we will be able to offer many of our recreation programs to the community with safety measures in place,” said Andy Coleman, city Parks and Recreation director. “We are planning to open Memorial Pool, with a reduced capacity, when the county reaches Phase 3.”

During Phase 2, all branches of the Walla Walla County Rural Library District won’t be open to the public, said district Executive Director Rhonda Gould. Staff are reconfiguring space, rearranging furniture and determining how to accommodate social distancing of 6 feet.

“At this point, libraries fall under Phase 3 for reopening to the public, and we will be ready when that takes place,” Gould said. “The number of people who will be allowed in at any given time will be limited to reflect the occupancy numbers off Phase 3, and our social-distancing measures will be in place in the foreseeable future.”

She said staff will be required to wear masks if there is more than one person in the building with them, and personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves and sneeze screens have been provided for all of the branches.

City building lobbies will be authorized to reopen to the public in Phase 3 with the recommended protective measures in place, according to Mike Rizzitiello, College Place City administrator.

“City staff interacting with the public will be wearing face masks and we will encourage the public to do the same,” Rizzitiello said.

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Emily Thornton can be reached at emilythornton@wwub.com or 509-526-8325. Chloe LeValley can be reached at chloelevalley@wwub.com or 509-526-8326.

Emily Thornton covers courts and emergency services, as well as other various stories. She has been in the newspaper industry off and on since roughly 1999 and lived primarily on the West Coast, but also Florida and Europe.

Chloe LeValley covers the cities of Walla Walla and College Place as well as agriculture and the environment in the Walla Walla Valley. She is a graduate of San Francisco State University and joined the Union-Bulletin's team in October 2019.