County may ask to move to Phase 3 next week

Island County officials hope to ask the state Secretary of Health for permission to move into Level 3 of the Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start reopening plan next week.

Island County Public Health Director Keith Higman told commissioners at a meeting last week that the county can make the request as early as June 13. But since the process hinges on the county’s Board of Health, officials hope to send the request following the meeting on June 16.

Under Phase 3, restrictions meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will be further loosened. Gatherings of up to 50 people will be allowed, restaurants can move to 75 percent capacity, bars can open at 25 percent and movie theaters can open at 50 percent capacity.

Higman said camping in the county will need to be addressed in Phase 3. The state would have allowed it under Phase 2, but officials were worried about overuse since camping in adjacent counties was still closed at the time.

The state Secretary of Health granted the county’s request to move into Phase 2 on May 23, ahead of most other counties. The county-by-county, phased process of reopening is based on data about the number of new cases, healthcare system readiness, testing capacity and other criteria.

A county can request to move into Phase 3 after a minimum of three weeks in Phase 2.

Higman explained that, under the process, the county’s health officer will make a recommendation based on the data. He can recommend the county stay in Phase 2, apply to move fully into Phase 3 or apply to move into a subset of Phase 3 modifications.

The recommendation will go to the county Board of Health for a decision on whether to move forward with the recommendation.

The county commissioners then have to give their stamp of approval, but they cannot make any changes.

Higman said the Secretary of Health can approve the county’s move into the next phase, deny it or approve it for only certain activities.

For the Phase 2 variance, the Secretary of Health approved the county’s request the day after the letter was sent. Higman said the turn around may not be as quick this time.