The Cowlitz County COVID-19 Incident Management Team said it no longer needs a local emergency declaration, so county commissioners Tuesday let the proclamation expire.
The declaration had allowed the county to acquire personal protective equipment from the state and and distribute it to health care agencies, first responders and other organizations. Dave LaFave, incident commander, told the commissioners the team has stockpiled enough personal protective equipment to last about six months. The IMT is now encouraging local agencies to use their normal supply pipelines for ordering equipment, LaFave said.
Commissioner Dennis Weber reminded residents the declaration is not related to the governor’s orders or mandates and the commissioners’ action doesn’t end the business restrictions.
Cowlitz County Tuesday reported 16 new COVID-19 cases over the holiday weekend, bringing the total to 573. As of Friday, 479 were considered recovered. Four virus patients are currently hospitalized outside the county.
The commissioners voted to direct the health department to prepare the application for Phase 3 of the governor’s reopening plan. Gov. Jay Inslee in July indefinitely paused all counties from moving forward through the phases.
Commissioner Arne Mortensen said while he supports the commissioners doing what they can to move forward, the governor has paused progression through the phases and the county “must learn to stand on its own two feet.”
Weber said the governor listens, “although he doesn’t always do what we want.”
“We need to hammer home things are going well in Cowlitz County, better than expected, because citizens are doing the right thing,” he said.
If the governor refuses the county’s application, he may be “overstepping bounds and not paying attention to science,” Weber said. At that point the county may consider a lawsuit, he said.
The state Department of Health reviews all county applications to move forward in the reopening plan. The state considers several measures, including the rate of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000, available hospital beds, ability to respond to outbreaks and case investigation capacity.
To apply, the local public health officer must submit a recommendation to the board of health to move forward to the next phase. The board of health votes on the plan, then the county commissioners (which are the same in Cowlitz County.)
During Tuesday’s meeting, six citizens encouraged the commissioners to push to fully reopen the county.
Commissioner Joe Gardner said he appreciates where everyone is coming from and these are “difficult, frustrating times,” but that he doesn’t have have to authority to do what’s asked of him.
“There’s no mechanism or method for the county to insulate businesses from (the state Department of) Labor and Industries or (Department of) Licensing,” he said “I didn’t sign anything that closed the county so can’t un-sign it. If it was simple as that, it would be great, but there’s nothing that tells me that’s the case.”
Even though the commissioners don’t have authority over the state agencies, they can speak against them to defend the citizens, Mortensen said.
Mortensen is working on a resolution recognizing Cowlitz County residents are “being destroyed economically and spiritually by the unlawful enforcement of executive suggestions,” and declaring “that business and social activities may resume immediately.”
Mortensen is encouraging people to email the commissioners in support of the measure and sign a supporting petition. He said he tentatively plans to present the resolution next Tuesday if it’s received enough support.
“I was elected by the people to try to help the people, and my boss is essentially the people. Other folks seem to think their boss is up the chain in Olympia,” he said. “The tenor out there is significantly in favor of unlocking the county.”
Get local news delivered to your inbox!
Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.