Walla Walla County is not yet eligible for the next phase of Gov. Jay Inslee’s "Safe Start" economic reopening plan, according to state Secretary of Health John Wiesman.
In an email received today and shared by Walla Walla County commissioners, Wiesman said his department is not reviewing the county's application for a variance that would allow it to enter Phase 2 of the four-phase reopening strategy.
The county requested the variance Thursday in an effort to advance from the COVID-19 pandemic and begin to reopen businesses previously deemed nonessential in the governor's closures.
“We are watching the rates daily, and it is certainly possible that you will be eligible soon,” Wiesman said via email. "If that happens, we will look for you to just update any parts that have changed (testing data would be one) and resubmit."
About one-third of the state is now eligible to move into Phase 2 of the plan as 14 counties have been approved for the variance.
County officials said Thursday if the coronavirus case count remains at six or fewer the county should be eligible by Sunday.
The county reports its current number of COVID-19 infections as three. Those residents were listed as recovering as of Thursday.
Meanwhile, Wiesman today approved variance applications for Adams, Grays Harbor, Lewis and Spokane counties for movement into Phase 2 , according to a statement released by the Department of Health.
While the rest of the state prepares to advance to the second phase June 1, Inslee said today that may not include every county.
“Counties that continue to have large numbers of infections are not in a position to open up stores, restaurants and services safely,” he said. “We are hard at work to determine next steps as we move closer to the May 31 expiration of my current order.”
“As I have repeatedly said before, these are decisions that are driven by public health data and science, not the calendar.”
Counties are allowed to apply for an early entry into Phase 2 if they have fewer than 10 COVID-19 cases per of 100,000 residents over two weeks, based on requirements issued by the governor on Tuesday.
With a population of 60,760, Walla Walla County officials figure the county would need no more than 6.1 cases per week to advance, according to their application for variance.
Numbers listed on the application show 11 cases per week, or 22 cases total in two weeks.
For the week of May 10-16, seven of the 11 cases were identified through facilitywide testing at a local long-term care facility. Thus, the county’s weekly case count would have been well below the Department of Health criteria. So far this week, Community Health has reported no new cases.
The state health department said 11 more counties are eligible to apply for a variance to move to Phase 2. Those include Clallam, Clark, Cowlitz, Grant, Island, Jefferson, Kitsap, Mason, Pacific, San Juan and Thurston.
Kittitas County's application is on pause until Tuesday due to an outbreak investigation.
That leaves Walla Walla among 14 counties neither eligible to apply nor currently in Phase 2.
“As we move into the three-day weekend, I urge Washingtonians to keep working diligently to protect your families and communities,” he said. “Please continue to physically distance, spend time with those in your household and stay close to where you live," Inslee said in a prepared statement. "We have made tremendous progress in this fight, and I know this has been extremely difficult for everyone. Our collective efforts have protected health and saved lives.”