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As of Wednesday morning, Thurston County is in Phase 3 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phased “Safe Start” plant to reopen the economy after the initial statewide COVID-19 outbreak.

Phase 3 allows county residents to gather in groups of no more than 50 people, resume non-essential travel and allows many businesses to reopen with more capacity.

Under Phase 3 guidance, businesses must also develop a written safety plan outlining how it plans to prevent the spread of the virus, according to the governor’s website. Businesses are also required to follow industry-specific guidelines to reopen their business in Phase 3.

The Thurston Board of County Commissioners and Board of Health last week approved a recommendation by Public Health and Social Services and Acting Public Health Officer Dr. Diana Yu to move forward with submitting an application to the Department of Health.

The approval came just one day after Inslee and Secretary of Health John Wiesman announced a mask mandate for all Washington residents in public spaces. Thurston County has been under a masking directive issued by Yu for about a month now.

In a letter published on Tuesday, Yu reiterated the need to continue to implement social distancing measures while the county continues its phased approach to reopening.

“At some point we will move into Phase 3 and I want to be clear and remind everyone, Phase 3 does not mean life as usual. We need to continue to weigh our risks and make safe choices,” she wrote, adding later that “COVID is real. It is not a hoax. It is not just a cold. Protection begins with all of us doing our part to take care of ourselves and be considerate of others.”

As of Wednesday morning, Thurston County Public Health and Social Services had recorded 226 cases of COVID-19 — about 100 of which have been recorded in the last month.

A total four residents in the county have died due to health complications related to that disease. One death was recently removed from the count as it was later determined the person did not die due to complications from the disease.

According to the Department of Health, three counties are currently in Phase 1, two counties are in modified Phase 1, 17 counties are in Phase 2, and 17 counties are in Phase 3.

In order to move to a new phase, each county must submit an application to the Washington State department of Health and obtain support from the local health officer, local board of health and county commissioners.

Local hospitals must also demonstrate adequate capacity to sustain a potential surge in hospitalizations as well as have adequate PPE supplies to keep health care workers safe.

Phase 4 variance guidelines have not yet been published by the governor’s office or the Department of Health. Under Phase 4, residents would be allowed to resume public interaction as normal with added social distancing measures.

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