County to apply for easing of covid-19 restrictions
May 7, 2020
If it were up to Wahkiakum County commissioners, stay at home restrictions on business and society in general to prevent the spread of covid-19 virus would be largely lifted.
The county now has just three cases, and the economy needs to restart, they say.
On Tuesday, commissioners authorized Health and Human Services Director Chris Bischoff to prepare an application to the state Department of Health (DOH) to move the county into a Phase 2 physical distancing order which permits small gatherings, partial re-opening of restaurants, more recreational activities and expanded business and construction work.
On Tuesday, commissioners planned to act on the variance at their May 12 meeting, but on Wednesday, they announced they would hold a special meeting this Friday to take action. See the announcement at the end of this story, with directions on how to join the meeting via Zoom.
If the state DOH approves the variance request, the county possibly could move to Phase 2 on May 18, Bischoff said.
Under Phase 2:
High risk populations must continue to stay at home;
Recreation opens up to all outdoor activities, such as camping, involving fewer than five people;
Social gatherings are allowed with no more than five people outside the household per week;
Limited non-essential travel is allowed within near proximity of the home, and
Business activity includes manufacturing new construction, in-home/domestic services, retail allowed with restrictions, real estate, professional and office based services, barbers, hair and nail salons, house cleaning, restaurants with less than 50% capacity and table size no larger than five persons.
Commissioners expressed frustration over the slow pace of easing restrictions.
"To me, it's bogus," said commission Chair Dan Cothren. "It should be ready to start today. It's typical government--road block after road block.
"Open it up."
Bischoff said he understood the frustration but cautioned the board to be careful. For example, with camping allowed, infected people from outside the area could bring the covid-19 into the local populace.
"There's a potential for this thing to explode," Bischoff said. "Wahkiakum County is fortunate that we're so spread out. That works well for us.
"But you're taking a risk for your citizens; it's my job as health officer to tell you."
The board could cherry pick what activities they wanted to allow under Phase 2, Bischoff added.
“I’m for opening up all activities,” Cothren said.
“Unless there’s some compelling reason not to, go ahead,” said Commissioner Gene Strong.
“We can always pull back if it gets busy (with new cases),” said Commissioner Mike Backman.
In related action, the board approved sending a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee criticizing slow re-opening of the economy and asking that rural counties be included in response planning.
Commissioners and department heads discussed how they want their offices to be accessible to the public once restrictions are eased.
Auditor Nicci Bergseng commented that her staff needs to be able to work in the office to meet report deadlines and handle other duties such as election filing and vehicle licensing.
Treasurer Tammy Peterson said two of her three-person staff fall into the category of people who are vulnerable to severe covid-19 illness.
“We need to protect our staff,” she said.
After more discussion, Renfro and Bischoff said they would gather input and funnel the information to the commissioners.
Friday’s special meeting on the variance
Wahkiakum County commissioners will hold a special meeting at 8:30 a.m., Friday May 8, 2020. Said Special Meeting shall take place remotely via Zoom, per Governor Inslee’s Proclamation #20-28.2; further information below:
Zoom meeting link:
Meeting ID: 881 302 0381
And/or dial any number below for audio:
+1 253 215 8782 US
+1 669 900 6833 US
+1 346 248 7799 US
+1 929 205 6099 US
+1 301 715 8592 US
+1 312 626 6799 US
The Agenda for said Special Meeting is as follows:
1. Commissioners a. Discuss and act on the application for a County Variance Request to Governor Inslee’s phased re-opening plan for Washington State’s economy, Safe Start
b. Any other discussion and/or actions on COVID-19 and re-opening
2. Board of Health
a. Discuss and act on the application for a County Variance Request to
Governor Inslee’s phased re-opening for Washington State’s economy,