Board aiming to limit spread of virus

Island County Board of Health is exploring a variety of ways to keep transmission of the COVID-19 virus low.

In just over a week, positive COVID-19 cases on Whidbey increased by 15, from 184 to 199. Across the county, cases increased by 17, from 232 to 249.

During a special meeting held by the board of health last week, members discussed the importance of not sliding backwards from the progress already made.

Public Health Director Keith Higman referred to Island County as being in a “modified” Phase 3, meaning the governor has imposed some restrictions on gatherings and business occupancies.

The Island County Commissioners on the board agreed that state data, such as the metrics used to determine county readiness to move between phases, is being used to make decisions concerning public health at the county level.

“We’re downstream of much bigger decision makers,” said Commissioner Jill Johnson during an interview, with reference to state and federal governments. “All we’re doing is to try and meet metrics locally.”

An updated table of Island County’s metrics is available to view on the county’s public health website.

The county has met four out of five of the goals listed.

Because the three county commissioners were the only board members present, they decided not to take any action during Thursday’s meeting.

However, Higman’s recommendations for the board of health included discouraging travel in and and out of the county, encouraging businesses to offer hours of operation for more vulnerable populations, requiring county residents to have face cloth coverings when leaving their homes and considering if the county should play a more active role in COVID-19 testing.

Outdoor recreation was another talking point to consider and a hot topic at the meeting.

As part of a community guidance update, county commissioners made the decision on July 28 to limit outdoor recreational gatherings to groups of 10 in unincorporated Island County.

Johnson said the decision was made based on two factors.

Taking such a precautionary measure would help to meet the goals of the metrics, which if not met may call attention to Island County and could possibly result in it losing its Phase 3 status.

The other reason is the baseball practices and tournaments taking place with teams from other counties that are in Phase 2, meaning only groups of five are allowed to congregate.

One such tournament took place the weekend of July 24-26 at Clover Valley Park in North Whidbey and included the participation of eight teams, some from Skagit and Snohomish counties, which are both currently in Phase 2.

Earlier in the summer, Higman had made the recommendation that recreational sports teams from Phase 2 counties shouldn’t be practicing on Island County fields. County officials had been denying the teams from other counties that were asking to come practice on county fields.

Neither Higman nor Johnson are certain if there were communications made directly with the organizers of the tournament or the teams. They both said the parks and recreation districts may have been informed, though.

Johnson said the new regulation limiting outdoor recreation was not targeting the kids or the teams, but rather is just one of the ways to slow the spread of the virus without impacting economic activity.

When the decision was made, three of the five goals of the metrics were not being met for the county.

During the board of health meeting this past Thursday, many members of the public expressed frustration with the new rule, saying it took away the opportunity for kids to play ball during bleak times. Some responded that the governor’s guidelines had been closely followed during the tournament.

South Whidbey parent Kathleen Warren said the mental health of families and their kids should be taken into consideration.

Doug Coutts, the executive director for the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District, said the 10-person limit prohibits any games between teams.

Coutts pointed out that the groups coming in from other counties to play was the issue that should be restricted, rather than limiting what Island County residents and their teams can do with each other.

Johnson said she was appreciative of the diverse set of comments from the public that focused on the social and emotional well-being of children.

“We are aware that isolation is taking its toll,” she said.

Johnson added that the commissioners were planning to consider looking at how many people can congregate during this past Tuesday’s meeting.

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