Thurston County Officially Approved for Phase 2 of Gov. Inslee Reopening Plan

Less than 24 hours after the Board of County Commissioners voted in favor of submitting its application, Thurston County is now in Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phased “Safe Start” plan.

Thurston County Public Health and Social Services Director Schelli Slaughter was notified by Secretary of the State Department of Health John Wieseman the morning of Wednesday, May 27, marking the first step in many the county will need to take in order to continue reopening businesses and public gatherings that have been shuttered due to the coronavirus crisis.

Phase 2, effective immediately, allows several business sectors — including restaurants, bars, barbers, salons, gyms and others — to welcome customers again with limits placed on occupancy and other requirements. Manufacturing, constructing, in-store retail, real estate and professional office-based services will also be allowed to reopen with restrictions and precautions.

In a statement released by the county, Commissioner John Hutchings thanked the staff and local hospitals for gathering application materials and information required by the state’s Department of Health to make this first step to reopening.

“Our obligations and responsibilities continue as we move into phase 2,” Hutchings said. “It’s imperative to keep our momentum going by masking up, respecting social distancing, and maintaining grouping maximums. We do not want to go backwards.”

Even as businesses in the county begin opening, officials with the county health department are urging citizens to continue social distancing measures when out and to continue wearing face masks. Residents should stay close to home and shop local, if possible, and not travel too far.

High risk populations, such as those older than 60 or immuno-compromised individuals or those with severe health issues, should continue to stay home during Phase 2, public health officials say.

At a press conference on Tuesday, shortly after the county submitted its application for variance, mayors and Thurston County elected officials held a press conference with a small number of reporters to answer questions about the Phase 2 application and to note their confidence in the application being accepted by the state.

Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby gave praise to the many Thurston County organizations that have worked tirelessly during the closures to meet families needs and also recognized the sacrifices businesses and families have made.

“I know that we’ll rebuild our economy, but to do that more quickly we need to support our local businesses as they open up,” she said. “So now is our time and our job to remind all Thurstonians that this opportunity to go to Phase 2 comes with great responsibility.”

Yelm Mayor JW Foster, who called the submitted application a reason to celebrate, said that people should continue to stay the course in order to get through the governor’s plan to restart the economy. He also compared the effects of the norm-breaking virus to that of other unprecedented events in the past.

“We know how to do this. When we have a challenge before us, we band together, do the right thing and we move on to the next challenge,” he said.

Acting Public Health Officer Dr. Diana Yu, in a letter shortly after the application was submitted Tuesday, wrote that while even she was anxious after more than eight weeks of working from home, it’s important for residents to continue the course and recognize things won’t be back to normal immediately in Phase 2.

“We need to continue to be vigilant and thoughtful about masking and social distancing. If the state approves Thurston County to move to Phase 2, it will be at least three weeks before we can even consider moving to Phase 3. If our case numbers rise significantly, or people become too relaxed in caring for the community, we may have to return to Phase 1,” she wrote, adding that recovery is a process.

In order to move from Phase 1 to Phase 2, counties must submit a signed letter from the county’s public health officer, gain the approval from the county’s board of health, provide assurances that they can meet surge and personal protective equipment standards for hospitals, gain approval from the county’s legislative body, and submit documentation regarding its ability to follow contact tracing and recent week’s COVID-19 testing reports.

The process for counties to enter into Phase 3 is still being developed. According to Inslee’s office, counties will need to continue to demonstrate health care readiness, prompt testing capacities and availability, low caseloads and contact tracing abilities.

When the county moves into Phase 3, groups of up to 50 individuals will be permitted including sports and recreational activities, residents will be allowed to resume non-essential travel, restaurants and bars will be able to open to less than 75 percent capacity, and other business activities besides night clubs and events with 50 or more people will be able to resume.

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