OLYMPIA — Okanogan is the latest county in North Central Washington approved to move to Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start plan.
State Secretary of Health John Wiesman on Friday approved Okanogan and five other counties to make the move, bringing the total number of counties in Phase 2 to 26. Grant County was approved for Phase 2 on May 23.
Wiesman also approved King County to move to a modified Phase 1 — the only county approved so far for that variation. He approved seven other counties to move to Phase 3.
Chelan and Douglas are among five counties remaining in Phase 1, but the Chelan-Douglas Health District is applying to move to a modified Phase 1.
Okanogan County Commissioner Andy Hover said he saw local businesses closing and business owners unable to collect unemployment during the shutdown.
“I think it’s wonderful that these small businesses now, with their safe plans in place ... can get back to working and paying their bills and not having to worry so much about how they’re going to afford to keep their businesses,” he said.
To be eligible to move to the next phase, counties must have support from the local health officer, board of health and county commission. They must show they have adequate hospital bed availability, testing and contact tracing capacity, and personal protective equipment.
The goal is 25 or fewer new cases per 100,000 residents over 14 days, with hospitalizations flat or decreasing. However, the Department of Health says metrics are “targets, not hardline measures” and the department will consider other goals as well as information provided by the counties.
This phased reopening “reduces the risk of COVID-19 to Washington’s most vulnerable populations and preserves capacity in our health care system, while safely opening up businesses and resuming gatherings, travel, shopping and recreation,” according to a Department of Health news release. “The plan allows counties and the secretary of health to holistically review COVID-19 activity and the ability for the county to respond when determining if a county is ready to move into a new phase.”
Businesses allowed to open in Phase 2 — with health and safety requirements — include dine-in restaurants and taverns, in-store retail, personal services like hair and nail salons, professional photography, pet grooming, fitness and real estate.
Hover said he was concerned about people losing their livelihoods if they didn’t fall under essential services as outlined by the state.
“There was a very arbitrary line placed on what was essential for business and what wasn’t,” he said. “You had bicycle shops that, if they repaired bicycles, they were able to be open.
“Yet you had antique stores that couldn’t be open. They could be the same size, and there could be less amount of people in the antique store. To me, there wasn’t enough thought put into how we were shutting down, and that really concerned me.”