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Cowlitz not among 10 new counties that can apply for Phase 2 reopening

Cowlitz not among 10 new counties that can apply for Phase 2 reopening

Ten more Washington counties can apply to move to Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase plan for reopening the economy, but Cowlitz County was not among them in Tuesday’s announcement.

However, local officials plan to submit an application for Phase 2 status by the end of the week because the county is eligible based on the number of COVID-19 cases reported in the past 14 days, said Steve Krager, county deputy health officer.

The governor announced Tuesday that counties with fewer than 10 new cases per 100,000 residents from April 28 and May 12 are now eligible to apply to move to Phase 2. Cowlitz County had a rate of 14 cases per 100,000 during that two-week stretch, according to the Department of Health.

However, the county had only one new case in the last week, which was reported Tuesday morning to bring the total number of cases up to 69. Counting the new case, the county has had nine cases in the 14-day period from May 5 through May 19, a rate of about eight cases per 100,000 residents.

Krager said he’s confident the county will be at least very close to being eligible to apply for Phase 2 status.

“We’re generally in a good spot,” Krager said. “We’re going to move forward regardless.”

It’s possible counties that claim they’ve newly met the criteria will be eligible to apply, said Mike Faulk, governor’s office spokesman.

The newly eligible counties are Spokane, Adams, Mason, Thurston, Lewis, Clark, Clallam, Kitsap, Island, and San Juan.

Ten other counties already have been approved for Phase 2: Asotin, Columbia, Garfield, Lincoln, Ferry, Pend Oreille, Skamania, Stevens, Wahkiakum, and Whitman.

The Phase 2 application includes several steps to move forward, beginning with a recommendation from the local health officer. The board of health votes on the plan, then the county commissioners (which are the same in Cowlitz County.)

Any hospitals in the county must be part of the process. Krager said he believes PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center has the capacity to handle a surge in cases, as well as enough personal protective equipment.

The county also must report its testing capacity, which Krager said has improved in the past few weeks.

One measure the county has less control over is how quickly people get tested once they get sick, Krager said. But community members can help address that issue by getting tested as soon as possible if they think they have COVID-19, he said.

“I want to emphasize from a health perspective we are encouraging people to take care,” Krager said “This is not over. We have a long ways to go.”

As of today, 22 of the state’s 39 counties have moved to Phase 2 or are eligible to apply.

Phase 2 allows more outdoor recreation, such as camping. Small group gatherings of five people or less are allowed. Barbershops and salons could reopen along with restaurants at 50% capacity and tables of five people or less. Pet services, including grooming, could resume. Some professional services could resume, although teleworking will still be encouraged.

Limited non-essential travel within the proximity of your home is allowed.

State officials have not yet decided how and when to allow a county to move from Phase 2 to Phase 3, according to the governor’s website.

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