After weeks of uncertainty, state health officials confirmed Klickitat County will remain in Phase 2 for the foreseeable future.
County officials had submitted the paperwork required for approval to move forward with Phase 3 much earlier in the month of July, but that was returned to them after Gov. Jay Inslee first announced a pause in the state’s “Safe Start” reopening plan. Originally, that pause was meant to last until Aug. 6.
All hopes of a quick turnaround to Phase 3 were shot after the governor announced an extension “indefinitely” of the state’s reopening program last week. Klickitat County, along with 15 other counties in the state of Washington remain at Phase 2 for the time being. No county thus far has made it to Phase 4, the final stage, of the state’s reopening plan.
“This has been very frustrating for
all of our county residents, and it is my sense that not knowing when we can apply for Phase 3, not knowing what metrics we will need to meet to move to Phase 3 or what the application process will look adds to the challenge of not having an ‘end goal’ to work towards,” Klickitat County Public Health Director Erinn Quinn wrote in an email conversation.
“We get a lot of phone calls and emails about this and absolutely understand how frustrating it is and hope that the community understands that we are equally as frustrated,” Quinn continued.
Along with the extension of Safe Start, Inslee announced new modifications to Phase 2 of the reopening system, listed below.
Safe Start modifications
Indoor dining is limited to members of the same household until Phase 4
No indoor family entertainment/recreational centers
Alcohol (beer, wine, spirits) service must end at 10 p.m.
Only five individuals (not including staff) are allowed for indoor fitness services.
Face coverings will be worn in ANY shared spaces including elevators, hallways, and shared spaces in an apartment or condominium, university buildings and housing, hotels and motels, and in congregate settings such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and adult family homes.
Regarding weddings and funerals (secular or non-secular), beginning Aug. 6 the following is required:
The maximum indoor occupancy is 20 percent capacity or up to 30 people, whichever is less, so long as six feet of physical distancing can be achieved between households.
Only ceremonies are permitted. Receptions are prohibited. Everyone is encouraged to follow other faith-based guidance.
According to Quinn, a large increase of COVID-19 cases has occurred within the county since the application was first put on hold last month, which Quinn said is a trend in keeping with other counties across the state. Quinn said the county is “getting close to doubling the number of cases we had when we submitted our application at the beginning of July.”
Quinn said the data shows that the county is in a good position with respect to managing the virus. Of the 106 confirmed cases in the county, there have been nine hospitalizations and three deaths. Klickitat County is currently at a 3.9 percent positivity rate.
Quinn said it is her belief that the numbers remain strong, in part, “due to the overwhelming compliance we have had with people choosing to wear masks and (maintain) social distancing.
“The health department is working diligently alongside local clinics and hospitals to follow-up with all COVID-19 positive patients for case investigation and contact tracing, a collaborative effort that has also been a very big impact on the case counts for Klickitat County,” Quinn said.
Still, the numbers need to improve, Quinn noted, as health officials turn their attention towards schools reopening in the fall. Major factors in deciding when children can return to school in person are the county’s transmission rate and case count.
The health department will advise local school districts as they navigate the reopening process, while also maintaining responsibility for contact tracing or case investigation that is needed in the event that a student or staff receives a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, Quinn said.
For now, health officials are asking residents to do their part in preventing the virus from spreading through the community.
“We would just continue to ask that residents make the choice to end viral transmission in our community, by making the choice to not attend or hold events with more than (five) people outside their household, and to make choices to wear a mask and to socially distance and to (maintain) good hand hygiene,” Quinn said.
Quinn said the state’s hold on the application has forced the health department to delay opening their offices to regularly scheduled in-person services. Quinn said in an email that staff continue to provide telehealth and “occasional in-person services as needed.”