State hits pause button on counties moving into phase 4

Kitsap’s application to move to phase 3 should not be affected

Gov. Jay Inslee announced recently that the state is putting on hold any possibility of Washington counties moving into Phase 4 of his “Safe Start” plan in response to a recent rise in COVID-19 cases in some parts of the state.

Kitsap County is among those which have seen an uptick in positives cases, though a much more modest one compared to counties in central and eastern Washington. Kitsap has added 71 new COVID-19 cases in June after an abrupt slowdown in cases from mid-April to the end of May due to tighter restrictions, though the percent positive test rate has remained steady at right around 2 percent.

The three counties still in Phase 1 — Yakima, Franklin and Benton have seen some of the sharpest increases. On June 15, the state reported 427 new confirmed cases, the third most since the pandemic began. Yakima County accounted for just over one-third of those cases with 144. Franklin and Benton, which are home to the Tri-Cities — Pasco, Kennewick and Richland — have seen between 20 and 65 cases added daily. Spokane County is also being hit harder now than it was in March and April.

“Phase 4 would mean a return to normal activity and we can’t do that now due to the continued rise in cases across the state,” Inslee said. “We all want to get back to doing all the things we love in Washington during the summer, and fully open our economy, but we aren’t there yet. This is an evolving situation and we will continue to make decisions based on the data.”

Last week, Inslee instituted a statewide mandate requiring facial coverings in public, including outdoors when individuals cannot maintain six feet of physical distance between others. It took effect on June 24.

“The best thing Washingtonians can do to slow the spread of the virus and save lives is to wear facial coverings, continue to maintain physical distancing and good hygiene practices,” said health secretary Jonathan Wiesman. “Now that testing supplies are available, it is critical to get a test if you have any symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19.”

The moratorium on moving ahead to Phase 4 shouldn’t affect Kitsap County’s application to move on to Phase 3, which remains under review by the state Department of Health. Thurston County, which submitted its Phase 3 application on the same day as Kitsap — Friday, June 17 — was approved by the DOH on the following Friday, June 24. Officials have said that the paperwork needed to move into Phase 3 is much more extensive than what was necessary for Phase 2, thus the need for a longer review period.

“The applications vary in size and scope, but as soon as we have arrived at a decision we will be sure to communicate that statewide via press release,” said Jessica Baggett, a public affairs officer for the DOH.

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