In Our Opinion: Regional reopening plan doesn’t work for Island County

It’s ridiculous that people can’t eat inside restaurants in Island County, which has largely maintained low COVID-19 infection rates, while restaurant customers are joyfully chowing down and clinking glasses in Snohomish County, the literal epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S.

Elected officials in Island County were so incensed by the unfairness of Gov. Jay Inslee’s latest phased reopening plan that they held a special meeting this week to scold one of his staff members and write a strongly worded letter to the man himself.

The problem is that Island County is grouped with Skagit, San Juan and Whatcom counties in a plan that divides the state into regions and sets metrics based on levels of improvements. The region that includes Snohomish and King counties was able to graduate to Phase 2 because the numbers went from totally scary to not-quite-as scary.

Island County’s COVID response manager told commissioners this week that the county would be able to move to the second phase if it was alone in the region. Apparently faraway Whatcom is the one bringing the entire North Region down.

Langley Mayor Tim Callison pointed out that Island County was among the first counties to move to Phase 3 under the prior reopening plan due to low numbers of new cases, plenty of open hospital beds and other healthy statistics. Langley was one of the first communities to require masks.

It’s not that there haven’t been problems on the island. There were a number of crowded and maskless conservative political events. The county public health department has had staffing and ongoing communication problems.

Yet the rollout of vaccinations by the county and the WhidbeyHealth hospital district has been successful. By and large, residents and businesses have been conscientious in following safety rules.

The regional approach make sense in principle. Borders between counties are porous. The governor’s representative said the model is meant to prevent medical systems from being overwhelmed in areas larger than counties. Yet Island County residents seeking off-island care travel to Snohomish and Skagit counties, and even King County, but rarely Whatcom.

As the name suggests, Island County is made up of islands, which translates to relative isolation and independence. The state should consider an Island Region to acknowledge the unique characteristics.

And business owners and everyday citizens should follow the lead of elected officials and send letters of protest to the governor’s office. Intelligent, respectful messages with proper punctuation.