Still grappling with reopening plan, commissioners hopes to vote on Phase 2 variance request Monday

The Grays Harbor County Board of Commissioners hopes to have everything in place by Monday to forward a variance request to the state to move the county into Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s plan to reopen the state in stages.

Speaking for the county Incident Management Team, which is handling the local response to COVID-19, Sheriff Rick Scott told commissioners Tuesday that the minimum requirements put forth for the variance have been met for the most part.

“With regard to testing we have all the necessary components in place to meet the needs relative to that specific concern,” said Scott. “For case and contact investigation we have the minimum necessary resources to meet the need.”

Scott said the minimum requirements for isolation and quarantine have also been met, including a contract with a local motel for 62 rooms and case management services, including food supplies, behavioral health support, transportation, and medical monitoring and oversight.

For the response ability requirement, the concern there is meeting the needs of longterm care facilities and other settings of larger groups, said Scott, which includes homeless camps. He said the team is continuing to identify those groups.

In all cases where minimum requirements have been met, Scott said the Incident Management Team is continuing to look at potential needs as the county opens up, potentially increasing exposure to the coronavirus.

“All that being said, the planning group of the Incident Management Team hopes to have a recommendation to Dr. (John) Bausher (the county’s appointed health officer) for him to consider the Phase 2 variance by the end of the week.”

The process requires Bausher to review the team’s variance request and make any recommendations to be considered by the county Board of Health, which is made up of the three county commissioners, who agreed to meet as the Board of Health in a special meeting Monday at 1 p.m. If they decide to make no changes to Bausher’s recommendation, they can vote as the Board of County Commissioners at a separate 3 p.m. meeting on the plan as is and move it on to the state level for consideration.

Commissioners all expressed their support for reopening the county.

“Our goal, in my opinion, is to open as quickly and safely as we can,” said Commissioner Vickie Raines. “We want to make sure if we do have a surge or influx of positive cases we are able to manage them properly. Otherwise, I think we need to get back to normal, or whatever the new normal will be.”

Scott said it’s possible Bausher’s recommendation will not be a full implementation of Phase 2, which includes opening restaurants at less than 50% capacity, opening hair salons and pet grooming, and in-store retail purchases, but rather a more restricted version of Phase 2 he coined “Phase 1.5” that may not include all the facets outlined by the state’s proposed Phase 2.

Commissioner Randy Ross expressed some frustration with how long the process was taking. Eight other counties have already been approved for the variance.

“It sounds to me like you’re trying to get everything documented for Phase 2 and I just heard we were okay with Phase 1.5,” said Ross, adding the requirements have been the same since they were released and the county “is still waiting until we get the plan in place.”

Norma Tillotson, Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney and member of the policy group, assured Ross that all the pieces of the plan are being “worked on concurrently.”

Ocean beaches likely to reopen

Raines said she sent an email to Westport and Ocean Shores regarding beach approaches and how crowds of visitors moved some barricades and signs in Moclips and Roosevelt Beach.

“In discussing it with the sheriff over the weekend I feel that as we look to Phase 1.5 and beyond down the road it’s probably a good time to just open the beach approaches,” she said. “Ocean Shores would like to open right away” and has asked the county to open in unison with the city.

The governor did not close beaches, it was local action that closed the approaches, explained Scott.

“With the barriers being moved and the amount of people accessing the beaches, as we move to a different phase I see no reason to keep them closed,” said Scott.

Raines said she was in contact with Ocean Shores Mayor Crystal Dingler, who informed her the Ocean Shores City Council had rejected her proposal to open the beaches next week, instead ordering the approaches open immediately. Raines said Dingler was afraid with Ocean Shores approaches opening ahead of others it would further concentrate out-of-area travel to the town and asked the county to open all approaches ahead of the weekend.

Scott said he had conversations over the weekend with State Parks and the State Patrol, and neither had any interest in telling people to get off the beaches.

“At this point it flies in the face of trying to open things up in the county to keep those approaches closed,” said Scott. “I would ask that we move forward with opening them up.”

Ross recommended a special meeting be called to discuss the topic and take potential action to open beach access areas. The meeting will take place Wednesday at 4 p.m.