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Kelso to consider not enforcing Inslee's order

Kelso to consider not enforcing Inslee's order

Kelso City Hall STOCK

Kelso City Hall

Cowlitz County on Monday marked a week without a new coronavirus infection as the Kelso City Council got set to consider a proclamation instructing police and officials not to enforce Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-home order.

The council will consider the proclamation by Councilman Keenan Harvey during a meeting that starts at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

The proclamation states the stay-home order is unclear about which businesses are allowed to operate and when the orders will end. And it says the orders fail to address county-by-county population differences “while inflicting major economic losses daily.”

“Kelso City employees are not employed by the Governor of the state, thus making the decision to enforce Governor Inslee’s orders a decision of the City Council regardless of the outcome of the Lawsuits determining constitutionality. Businesses wishing to open and operate shall do so using responsible social distancing policies and procedures without fear of retribution or investigation from the City of Kelso,” the proclamation states.

The full proclamation is attached to the online version of this story at TDN.com.

On his Facebook page, Harvey said he doesn’t believe the proclamation conflicts with Inslee’s orders because it isn’t asking businesses to open.

“The proclamation is simply utilizing the cities (sic) discretion to not enforce the orders which would remove ourselves from liability concerns,” he wrote. “My opinion is that if the state isn’t going to make the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order clear and concise, then the state should be responsible for the enforcement.”

Kelso City Manager Andy Hamilton Monday said the proclamation would change very little. The county Incident Management Team has been handling matters related to the stay-home order and “to my knowledge, they haven’t made any corrections at all,” Hamilton said. “They’ve just tried to educate people as to what the orders say.”

Hamilton added that the council is unlikely to pass the proclamation once it hears “all the legal background.”

Social distancing orders have been in effect in Washington for more than two months, and polls show the vast majority of Americans were complying as of late April, according to a Gallup poll released last week.

Local health officials said the slowdown of Cowlitz County cases indicates that social distancing and other COVID-19 safety precautions are working. The county is still doing a “significant amount of testing. We just are not getting positives,” county deputy health officer Dr. Steven Krager said Monday.

A weeklong gap since the last cases “is a good sign,” Krager said. “The longest gap we’ve had before this was four days.”

The county’s response to cases also has improved, Krager said.

“There is a lot more testing available in the community compared to the beginning of the outbreak. And we feel a lot more confident even if there are more cases, we would be able to isolate them more quickly and potentially stop them from spreading to more people,” he said.

But the county is “not out of the woods” yet, Krager said. Cases could potentially rise again as businesses and activities reopen across the state. “We are not letting our guard down.”

The county has had 68 infections but no deaths. Washington has had about 18,600 cases and 1,002 deaths, with more than half of the fatalities in King County.

Kelso’s proposed proclamation comes as Asotin County Monday was approved to move on to “Phase 2 of Inslee’s “Safe Start” plan. So far, 10 of 39 Washington counties — all with populations of fewer than 75,000 — have been approved for Phase 2, including Wahkiakum and Skamania. In Oregon, Columbia County has been approved for a similar phase.

Along with restaurants and taverns reopening for dine-in at 50% capacity, Phase 2 allows hair and nail salons, retail stores and pet grooming businesses to reopen with restrictions. It also authorizes manufacturing, additional construction and in-home domestic services to resume. However, businesses can’t begin operations until the state issues safety guidance for their industries.

Gov. Inslee early this month established a three-week wait period for larger counties to move to Phase 2, but he cautioned it could be longer. So, at this point, it is not clear how soon Cowlitz and other larger counties will qualify, or what the criteria will be.

The Kelso City Council on Tuesday will stream its meeting on KLTV.org to comply with social distancing guidelines. All public comments or questions must be submitted before the meeting using the link at the bottom of the City Council page on the city’s website, kelso.gov, according to a city Facebook post.

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