Pacific County approved for Phase 2 variance

Pacific County’s request for a Phase 2 variance to reopen some businesses and allow expanded recreation opportunities was quickly approved Saturday by John Wiesman, the state secretary of health.

Pacific County was declared eligible to apply for the variance May 21. County health officials applied May 22, and it was approved the following day.

“I have found your application to be complete and your public health, health care, and community resources to be appropriate for the variance consideration,” Wiesman wrote in the county’s acceptance letter.

Requirements for Pacific County’s Phase 2 variance included a recommendation from the county health officer, Dr. Steven Krager; and letters from both Ocean Beach and Willapa Harbor hospitals stating they had an adequate supply of personal protective equipment for two weeks and a 20% surge capacity to accommodate an increase in suspected of confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations.

In addition, to achieve Phase 2, a county must have fewer than 10 positive cases per 100,000 population. According to its variance request, Pacific County’s rate as of May 21 was 4.6 per 100,000, with one new case in the previous two weeks.

In its application, the county also detailed its contact investigation capacity and its testing capability — open four days a week to anyone with symptoms, at locations in South Bend and Long Beach.

Voluntary quarantine/isolation housing was another requirement. According to the county’s report, its capacity as of Friday was 20 individual units and four cabins. There is also case management support that can be provided by the health department for things like grocery shopping, prescription pickup, connections to social services and other elements that will help the person remain in isolation or quarantine.

The variance allows the reopening of restaurants and taverns at less than 50% capacity, hair and nail salons, pet groomers, real estate, and restricted in-store retail purchases — provided they follow specific, strict requirements for social distancing and other precautions. It also allows for outdoor recreation including camping, beach trips, etc., with groups of five or fewer from outside a household.

Adherence to the requirements is important, as the state can revoke the variance if there is significant community transmission of COVID-19 and if the county does not adhere to reporting and testing requirements.

“My intent would be to discuss my concerns with you prior to taking such action,” Wiesman wrote to Pacific County officials. “However, if I find urgent concerns, I reserve the right to immediately revoke the variance. The governor also retains the right to reimpose restrictions upon your jurisdiction under his authority.”

Like other counties accepted for the variance — including Grays Harbor County, accepted May 22 — Pacific County “may not proceed into Phase 3 of Gov. Inslee’s phased approach to reopening Washington plan without further authorization from me to do so,” wrote Wiesman. “In no case will authorization to move to the next phase be given without at least a three-week monitoring period.”

Industry-specific guidance for businesses allowed to reopen under the variance, as well as an online form for individuals wishing to report businesses not in compliance with the Phase 2 guidance, is available at coronavirus.wa.gov/what-you-need-know/safe-start.