Submitted by San Juan County
On May 29, Gov. Jay Inslee released further detail on his “Safe Start” plan, a phased approach to re-opening Washington’s economy. Safe Start lays out a measured approach to moving forward through the COVID-19 pandemic by modifying physical distancing measures and allowing businesses and other activities to slowly resume. This article will answer some questions about what the future may hold for San Juan County.
What phase is the county in now?
The islands entered Phase 2 on May 23. This allowed the limited opening of restaurants, retail stores, some fitness operations, professional services, churches, and other activities and services. Travel is allowed for activities permitted in Phases 1 and 2. More recently, transient lodging has been allowed to reopen at 50 percent capacity.
What is Phase 3?
Phase 3 allows non-essential travel. Restaurants and other businesses and services will be allowed to increase capacity. Newly able to open to varying degrees are bars, movie theaters, libraries, museums, and recreational facilities, including pools and gyms. Gatherings of less than 50 people are allowed including outdoor recreational sports for adults and youth. High-risk individuals should still use extreme caution with potential exposure, but there are no limits on their activity.
When and how do we enter Phase 3?
As laid out in Inslee’s plan, there must be a minimum of three weeks between phases. As with the move to Phase 2, in order to progress to Phase 3, the SJC Health Officer Dr. Frank James, Board of Health, and County Council all need to support advancing to Phase 3. If approval is given by local leaders, SJC is required to go through an extensive application process that will be reviewed for approval by the Washington State Secretary of Health.
It is expected that the measures required to move to Phase 3 will be similar to the move to Phase 2. The current status of those capabilities is available online at www.sanjuanco.com/1711/SJC-Readiness-Dashboard.
How do I prepare my business?
Any business or entity operating in Phase 3 needs to complete a safety plan. A template for doing so is available at https://bit.ly/2C35UNr. This is the baseline requirement.
In addition, specific industries and activities have additional guidance from the governor that must be followed, available a https://bit.ly/3cYeutD.
The exact date that SJC may potentially move to Phase 3 is unknown, but preparing now is a good idea.
How do we minimize risks?
COVID-19 has not gone away. There is currently no vaccine available that prevents the spread of this disease, and there are not yet medications available. While cases have remained low in the islands, and are diminishing in Western Washington, there are other places where things aren’t going so well, including in many communities in Eastern Washington.
Anyone who has symptoms of COVID (including a fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath, the new loss of taste or smell, nausea, sore throat, or diarrhea) should immediately contact their health care provider to talk about getting tested. Everyone needs to stay home when sick and minimize all contact with others until they have been cleared by their provider.
Our primary tools to minimize risk are basic but vital: aggressive hygiene and handwashing, social distancing whenever possible, and the wearing of face coverings in public. Efforts of both residents and visitors are absolutely essential to allow us to move forward and manage disease spread.
In addition, active public health efforts are a critical tool to prevent disease transmission. These include rapid case investigation, contact tracing, ability to isolate and quarantine ill or exposed individuals, outreach to vulnerable populations, and ongoing support of community testing efforts.
Finally, SJC Health & Community Services has developed an asymptomatic testing program that builds on efforts we completed in collaboration with local providers to test more than 300 essential workers in April. This program is in partnership with larger local public-facing businesses and organizations whose staff or volunteers have high exposure to the general population, including visitors.
With perseverance and focus, all of these strategies have the ability to continue to avoid community transmission in the county. The situation will need to be monitored closely, and the possibility always exists that we could move backward if the health of the islands is threatened.
Why would we move to Phase 3?
SJC has focused on a balance between minimizing the public health risk while avoiding the destruction of the social fabric that makes our islands special. SJC is moving forward as safely as possible, but with an awareness of potential impact to both the economy and to public health.
From the beginning, SJC has followed national and state guidelines, coupled with available data and science. Dr. James has not been shy about making decisions that protect public health, even if they are unpopular or go a different direction from the rest of Washington. Public health will always come first. The limits on lodging and moorage, the requirements for signage on the ferries, and the regulations around mask-wearing are all unique to SJC.
Most of us want to resume some of our normal activities as long as it is safe to do so. To move from one phase of the Governor’s plan to another requires a minimum of three weeks of data to demonstrate our ability to cope with any outbreaks or hotspots, should they develop.
SJC has a high number of residents who are older, retired and at higher risk for the disease. We also have a large number of families who live and work in our islands, many of them providing essential services or employment opportunities that allow all of us to call this special place home.
The reality of life in the islands that without those services, without those workers, and without income, life on our islands is not sustainable for many of the families and working people who live here. Balancing the need to ensure safety with the need to keep our vital businesses and services for our islands viable and open is the crux of the challenge ahead. SJC is working hard to keep our health, safety and economy moving forward equitably and thoughtfully.
Throughout this crisis, islanders have conducted themselves with grace, patience, generosity, thoughtfulness, decency, and ingenuity. There is no community anywhere that is better suited to handle something so difficult, and there is no group of citizens that are a greater pleasure to serve.