Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that more counties are now eligible to apply for a variance under an expanded criteria to move directly to phase two of the state’s “Safe Start” recovery plan.
Ten counties, mostly rural counties in the eastern and northeastern parts of Washington are already in phase two, and now another ten are eligible — all of the counties in the West Sound, Kitsap, Mason, Jefferson and Clallam as well as more in southwestern Washington.
Any county is eligible now if they have less than 10 new cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day span. Kitsap has had eight new cases in the first 20 days of May.
“All of this means we are making progress,” Inslee said in announcing the new criteria. “It does not mean we have stopped this highly contagious virus. Cautious, well-informed relaxation of COVID-19 interventions will be critical. We want to get this right so we do not have to go through it again.”
In order to apply, the local board of health must sign off on such a request. Local hospitals also must have proper surge capacity, personal protective equipment, isolation and quarantine facilities, a contact tracing plan and testing sites.
However, this week the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs announced that an employee at the veterans home in Port Orchard (Retsil) had been diagnosed with COVID-19, which will delay the county’s application by over a week.
Retsil, like many other long-term care facilities had been taking preventative measures in order to ensure asymptomatic carriers would not spread the disease — staff had been wearing cloth masks at all times since April 15. Now staff members in affected units will wear procedure masks when providing resident care and all staff and residents in those units will be re-tested for the virus.
The employee who was diagnosed is now self-isolating at home.
Because of this latest development, Kitsap Public Health District will hold back a recommendation on a variance application until at least May 28. Health officials will wait to ensure the virus hasn’t further spread before going forward with a recommendation.
“We are all eager to take steps toward resuming regular business and social activities in our county, but we have to make sure we can take those steps safely and sustainably,” said KPHD Health Officer Dr. Susan Turner. “We appreciate the understanding of Kitsap residents as we move forward with care.”