State health officials say Centralia’s Lakeview Inn — leased out in its entirety by owner Shamsher Singh — will allow COVID-positive individuals to quarantine until they’re no longer contagious. But city and county officials who were unhappy with the last-minute notification say locals want the facility gone.
“I can honestly say I haven’t talked to anyone that is for this facility in Centralia,” said Lewis County Commissioner Sean Swope, whose district encompasses the motel. He noted a flood of calls and messages from constituents over the weekend, some saying they would protest.
“I just want our citizens to know right out the gate that we don’t want this,” Swope said Monday.
Eric Eisenberg, from Lewis County’s prosecuting attorney’s office, told commissioners that the state health officer is allowed to step into local counties “when the local health officer is either unwilling or incapable of doing what’s necessary to control a contagious disease.”
“And that’s certainly questionable in this context,” he said, “because we have our own isolation and quarantine facility, which apparently is not even at capacity.”
Wayne Clifford, medical surge branch director for the state Department of Health (DOH), attempted to quell local concerns over the facility last week, telling officials that patients in quarantine aren’t inclined to break the rules and leave the facility. Lewis County Public Health Director JP Anderson has also expressed confidence that the facility will be managed well to keep the virus contained.
But for some local officials, Clifford’s reassurance came too late.
“The bottom line is ‘how rude,’” Centralia Mayor Sue Luond said. “Just to come into somebody’s city and just take it upon yourself to put something there, especially when it’s controversial like this, without any notification to anybody … It’s just beyond me, what they were thinking.”
Luond described concerns that patients could wander to nearby stores, sparking an outbreak. According to Luond, Clifford only came to a city council meeting last week after city officials asked him to. Clifford later apologized for catching local officials off guard.
According to Cory Portner, a DOH spokesman, individuals using the facility will not impact Lewis County’s overall COVID metrics used by the state to determine phases. The site was chosen after DOH evaluated 13 facilities, and was chosen “as a best fit based on criteria for logistics, safety and security.”
Swope said he wants to write a letter asking state officials to relocate, saying “it doesn’t make sense for it to be here.” Luond echoed the sentiment, saying that since the site is housing, in part, those who contracted the virus while in transit through Washington, it would be logical for it to be closer to an airport.
County Commissioner Lindsey Pollock, on the other hand, questioned the usefulness of “what is effectively a NIMBY (not in my backyard) letter” to the state. Instead, she suggested asking the Department of Health to address the risks of the facility, potentially laying out metrics to evaluate if the quarantine site is impacting the community, including its health care infrastructure and things like hospital capacity.
“What metrics will they put in place that say, ‘Oops, wait, we’re adversely affecting the host community, and we need to move this,’” she said. “How will they basically be good neighbors to the community they’re impacting?”
According to Portner, only three people since February 2020 needed to be transported from quarantine facilities to a hospital, and “DOH does not believe that this poses a risk for overwhelming Lewis County’s health care infrastructure.”
Previously, Clifford said detaining individuals who did exit the facility would be “the jurisdiction of the local health officer.” According to Anderson, Lewis County’s public health department doesn’t have a policy for using court orders to do that.
“But I would still like, in this instance, if it’s going to be here, for them to notify us anytime that happens,” he said. “We would want to know if they have someone walking off.”