Clark County preparing new application for Phase 2 reopening


The request came following a meeting with the secretary of health on Monday

CLARK COUNTY — Following a conversation with Washington Secretary of Health John Wiesman on Monday evening, Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick confirmed on Tuesday that the county has been asked to submit a new application to move to Phase 2 of reopening.

“Based on the level of COVID-19 activity in the community and our ability to respond quickly, effectively and appropriately, we’re optimistic we’ll receive a favorable review and approval to move to Phase 2,” Melnick said in a statement announcing the request.

Clark County remains in Phase 1 of the governor’s Safe Start reopening plan and will re-apply for a Phase 2 variance on Tuesday. Photo courtesy Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
Clark County remains in Phase 1 of the governor’s Safe Start reopening plan and will re-apply for a Phase 2 variance on Tuesday. Photo courtesy Washington Gov. Jay Inslee

The new application will use updated metrics issued by the state, designed to measure a county’s preparedness to move ahead with opening more businesses.

Those metrics include COVID-19 disease activity, health care system readiness, testing capacity, case interview and contact notification capacity, and protection of high-risk populations. 

According to Melnick, the state has waived the requirement that the Board of Public Health or County Council approve the new application.

“Staff is working diligently today to rework some numbers and rewrite the narrative,” said interim County Manager Kathleen Otto at Tuesday’s council meeting, held remotely. “They’re hoping to have this out this afternoon.”

The county previously filed an application for Phase 2 back on May 22, prior to learning the full extent of an outbreak at the Firestone Pacific Foods fruit packing plant in Vancouver, which had infected 77 employees and 47 of their close contacts as of Monday. 

“I’m happy about it,” said Council Chair Eileen Quiring of the updated application, “and thankful that we’ve got a health officer that is responding to the state so we can hopefully open soon.”

No timeline for a decision was given, though Melnick expressed optimism the county could receive an answer soon.

The state’s updated guidelines allow counties to have up to 25 new cases per 100,000 residents in the last 14 days, which would amount to nearly 125 for Clark County. 

Since May 16, when the Firestone outbreak was first noted, there have been 20 confirmed cases not linked to that facility (four cases previously not assigned to the facility were added to the total on Tuesday after closer examination revealed some duplication of reported cases).

The county has contracted with The Public Health Institute, an outside agency, to bring in contact notification teams in order to more quickly respond to any future outbreaks.

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