County revises rule for outdoor activities

Anyone gathering outdoors in groups of more than 10 people must first submit a waiver request to the Island County health officer.

That request must include a safety plan to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, the Island County Board of Health announced Aug. 20.

The board has already restricted outdoor gatherings to 10 people or fewer, a stricter limit than the state’s 50-person limit on outdoor groups.

The board imposed further requirements in its safety plan announcement teams are limited to one event with one opposing team within seven calendar days and are not allowed to participate in tournaments, or play with teams or players from another county.

So far, the county has received two safety plans for review, Health Services Director Keith Higman said. One is for an adult softball league playing at South Whidbey Community Park and one for a group playing pickleball on Camano Island.

County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said the board created the new requirements to allow some organized sporting events to occur while trying to keep the transmission of the virus low.

“I think it would meet the need of keeping the spread of the virus low but still allow some organized sporting events,” Price Johnson said.

“I think it’s a prudent plan that allows the flexibility our local teams need,” Price Johnson added.

“We were seeing significant pressure for teams outside of our county to come and use our fields because we are modified Phase 3, and that is not an acceptable risk for our community,” she said.

Island County is meeting three out of five of the state’s COVID-19 case count goals and is the only one in modified Phase 3 of its five neighboring counties.

As of Aug. 19, Island County reported 10.6 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 over the previous two-week period according to the county’s website. Island County is meeting the state’s goal of 25 cases or less per 100,000. The case rate per 100,000 has been falling since the beginning of August, according to county data.

However, it is not meeting the state’s goal of reaching 50 people or more tested for each new case; as of Aug.19, there were 45.9 people tested for each new case during the week prior.

The data on the amount of testing being done is not as important as the case rate per 100,000 population, Higman said.

“The testing numbers are problematic to watch right now because the state is changing the methodology of counting those numbers,” he said. Indeed, the county’s COVID-19 case count webpage has a disclaimer saying that the state department of health is changing the way it reports negative test results, but that it should be done within a week from Aug. 11.

“The metric that I’m paying the most attention to in that chart of five is the case rate per 100,000,” Higman said.

He said Island County was above the 25 per 100,000 threshold before there was a hard push for universal masks, but the population’s adoption of the masks has helped keep transmission rates lower than surrounding areas.

“My feeling is that we’re pushing that number down in Island County because we’re all doing a really good job of masking, and people are paying attention to the (limits on social gatherings),” said Higman.

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