Grays Harbor County’s Phase 2 variance application heading out for state consideration

Grays Harbor County’s application for a Phase 2 variance, which would allow some businesses and activities to re-open ahead of the Governor’s proposed Phase 2 statewide opening, has been approved by the Board of County Commissioners and county Board of Health, which is made up of the same three people.

Once the 70-page variance application is submitted it’s up to the state to decide whether it’s approved or not.

“My hope is the application is remitted to the state (Tuesday) afternoon or first thing (Wednesday) morning,” said Raines. “From that point it’s in the state’s hands, for which I believe they’ll provide a quick turnaround.”

Tuesday at noon, County Incident Management Team incident commander Leonard Johnson gave a brief synopsis of the application, telling the commissioners, who were then meeting as the Board of Health, that the plan outlined in the application “is designed around a very scalable and flexible response” and is “also designed for the long term,” so plans are in place if the COVID-19 exposure rate were to go up, or go down.

“It also covers all the functional pieces to the concerns the Department of Health might have,” including testing, case investigation, isolation and quarantine, and the ability to deal with long term care facilities and other congregate settings.

The state Department of Health said Monday that to apply for a variance, “counties must have a population of less than 75,000 and no new COVID-19 cases in the last three weeks.”

New cases

Grays Harbor County has had two cases reported recently, May 7 and May 15, but when asked by Commissioner Randy Ross, Public Health Director Karolyn Holden said new guidance that came from the Governor’s Office Tuesday indicated the county would still be eligible for a variance.

“In the new guidelines that just came out today from the governor there are metrics around case rates that make counties eligible or ineligible, and currently we are in a situation where our case rate makes us eligible,” said Holden. “When and if cases happen, regardless of what phase we are in, we look at the circumstances of the cases.”

The governor’s office said today that counties are now eligible to apply if they have less than 10 new cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day span.

Holden said the handful of recent cases did not pose a high risk of exposure within the community. “When I submit those cases to the Health Department I will be able to describe those circumstances.”

Those types of circumstances that could be problematic are individuals who have tested positive with a high risk of exposing large numbers of people, or those in “congregate” settings like assisted living facilities and health care worker settings.

Holden said if that were the case the county may be required to provide more resources and put the county at a higher level of risk, “but at this point I think we’re in good shape.”

The resolution approved by both bodies summarizes how the county has addressed the concerns outlined by the state to meet the requirements for a variance.

Application not mitigated

Discussion last week surrounding the Phase 2 variance application indicated that the county could move to a modified Phase 2 opening that might not include all of the governor’s Phase 2 activities. In the plan discussed Tuesday, County Health Officer Dr. John Bausher “did not request or recommend any variance from the Phase 2 approach of reopening Washington” as outlined by the governor, said Johnson. “Dr. Bausher recommends the full complement of options under Phase 2,” affirmed Holden.

Phase 2 includes opening up outdoor recreation involving fewer than five people outside your household, opening up restricted in-store retail sales, allowing for hair and nail salons to open, and restaurants can open with less than 50% capacity and tables that seat no more than five. Each activity contains its own list of requirements as drafted by the Governor’s Office.

A rolling reopening

When asked about a timeline for reopening if the variance is approved by the state, Johnson said it was his understanding that once a variance into Phase 2 is granted by the Secretary of Health, each approved business would have to first show whatever state licensing agency their business operated under that they were in full compliance with the conditions for re-opening.

Holden said the Governor’s Office has been working on providing business and activity specific re-opening guidelines for some time. Some of the counties who applied for the variance earlier had to wait for guideline documents to be published. However, she said most, if not all, of those guidelines are now available on the governor’s website.