The county needs to have no more than 10 new cases per 100,000 people in the past two weeks
CLARK COUNTY — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee today announced that 10 more counties, including Clark County, can apply for a variance, which would allow them to move more quickly to the second tier of a four-phased reopening plan.
Adams, Spokane, Mason, Thurston, Lewis, Clallam, Kitsap, Jefferson and San Juan counties also made the list.
The updated criteria includes counties with fewer than 10 new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents over the past two weeks.
On Tuesday, the county announced six more people had tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to 412 confirmed cases with 25 fatalities. There were only five new cases reported over the weekend.
“I suspect, strongly given our numbers around our cases — we’re a low incidence county — and given our hospital capacity … and given our testing data, I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to move forward on this,” said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County public health officer during a council meeting shortly before Inslee’s announcement.
The other criteria counties would need to meet in order to qualify for a variance include hospital capacity to handle a surge of new cases. Clark County currently has only four people hospitalized with COVID-19, two of whom are in intensive care.
Counties also need to demonstrate that they have sufficient testing capacity, and the ability to effectively contact confirmed cases and follow up with close contacts within 24-48 hours.
On Tuesday, members of the Clark County Council approved a plan to spend up to $9.1 million for contact tracing. The council chose a slightly more expensive option, which will allow public health to negotiate a contract with the Public Health Institute (PHI) to assist with the program.
“The Public Health Institute has these like, I don’t know if I want to call it a strike team, but they have these teams of contact tracers,” Melnick told the council. “And it’s modular. They can bring it up to eight teams, which would get us 72 contact tracers.”
Melnick said he anticipates the county would likely require far fewer, but that working with PHI would give them the ability to scale up or down with contact tracing based on the number of new cases being reported.
“We might start with three, because our numbers are low enough, and it doesn’t make sense to spend this money at this rate right away if we don’t have the numbers,” Melnick said. “And I’m hoping we keep the numbers down.”
The county anticipates the majority of funding for the contact tracing program would likely be refunded through money received as part of the federal CARES Act, of which Clark County is due to receive nearly $27 million.
Melnick said he hopes to have more details of the contract proposal in time for Wednesday morning’s Board of Public Health meeting.
The council could vote as soon as this week on approving a request for a variance.
Washington’s Secretary of Health, John Wiesman, said it will be up to each county’s public health officer to recommend applying for a variance, which would be voted on by the board of health and approved by a board of commissioners or council.
In Clark County’s case, the board of public health is also the county council, so any vote to approve applying for a variance could come as soon as this week, if the council chose to arrange an emergency meeting.
Phase 2 includes the reopening of barber shops, hair stylists, and tattoo artists, with safety restrictions in place. Restaurants would be allowed to open at no more than 50 percent capacity, with table size restricted to five or fewer people. Professional photography, dog grooming, and expanded outdoor recreation would also be allowed. Retailers could reopen as well, providing they implement contactless payments, and encourage delivery and curbside pickup options as much as possible. Gatherings of no more than five people per week outside of your immediate household would also be allowed.
“We now are moving to a situation where the weapon of choice is in our individual lives,” Inslee said on Tuesday. “And that kind of means we all are going to have to think about the kind of things we can do in our personal lives. Using masks, maintaining social distancing.”
Inslee added that a county that receives a variance to move ahead to Phase 2 would need to reapply to move to Phase 3 at a future date, using a similar process.
If all counties that are eligible to apply for a variance are approved, there would be 22 counties (of 39 in Washington) in Phase 2. The rest of the state would be eligible to move to that phase after June 1, assuming there are no setbacks.