Kittitas County to request accelerated opening

Bailey Tomlinson, News Editor

Kittitas County will be applying to immediately begin phase two of Gov. Jay Inslee’s phased reopening plan, county officials announced during a press conference. Called a variance, the application will allow the county to skip phase one of the recovery plan and enter immediately into phase two if it is approved by Inslee.

According to the outline of Inslee’s plan, phase one opens some outdoor recreation and limits nonessential travel and businesses. It does not allow gatherings. Phase one begins May 5. The state will remain in each phase for at least three weeks.

Phase two allows gatherings of no more than five people from different households per week. It also allows outdoor recreation involving fewer than five people from different households and some nonessential businesses to open, with restrictions. Nonessential travel remains limited under phase two. Inslee’s phased reopening plan has four total phases.

City Council Member Tristen Lamb said Kittitas County will be applying before the end of the day, May 4, and a response is expected within the week.

Counties with a population of less than 75,000 with no new cases of COVID-19 in the past three weeks are eligible to apply for a variance. Kittitas County meets these requirements. 

“I was hesitant to pursue the variance. I am not willing to trade lives for money,” Kittitas Valley Public Health Officer Dr. Mark Larson said. “However, I am also aware of all the needs in our county, from mental health, to financial health to physical health.”

Larson said he would continue to work with the Incident Management Team to be responsive to the citizens of Kittitas County, and that he’d spoken to neighboring counties and local officials to determine whether a move into phase two could be done carefully.

Whether or not the variance is approved, Larson said, Kittitas County residents must continue to take protective measures. These measures include hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes and wearing cloth masks in public.

“The increase of activity that will occur in phase two will mean the increase of COVID-19 in our county,” Larson said. “How well we monitor the disease, test and trace for potential exposures and implement isolation and quarantine will determine if we can continue into the next phase.”

Larson requested Kittitas County residents to wear a cloth mask in public, follow phase two recommendations, ensure businesses they shop at have safety plans, stay home if sick and practice kindness with one another in the face of major change.

The Kittitas County Board of Health, Board of County Commissioners, Sheriff’s Office, Prosecutor’s Office and Kittitas Valley Healthcare (KVH) all supported the application for the variance.

Chief Medical Officer of Kittitas Valley Healthcare Kevin Martin said KVH was equipped to handle a change in county health that moving to phase two may cause.

“We have systems in place and testing capacity as we slowly move to phase two, with caution. We have adequate personal protective equipment in our facilities,” Martin said. “We have a workforce that’s been preparing for this, cross training to cover each other and deal with any contingency.”

Martin emphasized continued caution as the county begins to move forward.