This week in San Juan County | A COVID update

San Juan County is now in Phase Two of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase Safe Start reopening plan.

“We are making good progress as we continue to open Washington in segments. Currently, one-third of our state is now eligible to move into Phase 2,” Inslee said.

Early in the afternoon of May 23, San Juan joined 20 counties in the state to be approved by the Washington State Department of Health to progress. San Juan County staff submitted its request on the afternoon of May 22, with approval granted in less than 24 hours.

“Our community can now start to slowly re-open, a much-needed step for many of our local businesses. I appreciate the quick work of the San Juan County team in submitting the application, and the State Secretary of Health for prompt review and approval,” County Council Chairperson Rick Hughes said in a press release. “If we all closely follow the requirements in place to minimize the risk of transmission, I’m confident we can proceed to Phase Two safely and responsibly.”

To qualify to progress to Phase Two, counties must have had an average of fewer than 10 new cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period. Each county requesting advancement must demonstrate it has adequate local hospital bed capacity as well as necessary personal protective equipment supplies to keep health care workers safe. The application must include plans for making testing available and accessible to everyone in the county with symptoms; staffing for case investigations and contact tracing; providing housing people in isolation or quarantine who can’t or don’t want to do so at home; providing case management services to those in isolation and quarantine; and responding rapidly to outbreaks.

Phase Two allows for the reopening of retail businesses; restaurants for dine-in; barbers, hairstylists and other personal services; indoor fitness studios; pet grooming; real estate businesses; and professional services, such as accountants, lawyers, architects, etc. This phase continues the Stay Home, Stay Healthy for at-risk populations, however, all outdoor recreation that involves fewer than five people outside of your household may occur. Social gatherings are permitted, but restricted to no more than five people outside of your household per week. Limited, non-essential travel is allowed within the proximity of your home. Restaurants can open at 50 percent capacity with no tables of more than five people.

Phase Two also brings an ordinance requiring facial coverings to San Juan County.

“I can’t say it any more directly — this is actually a matter of life and death. The islands have a population with lots of high-risk residents,” San Juan County Public Health Officer Dr. Frank James said in an April press release. “We also have an economy that is fragile and concentrated in just a few industries. In order to get back to work, we need to do everything we can to protect our community — both from ourselves, but also when visitors may eventually start to return. Covering our faces is the frontline of that fight.”

A face-covering — either a mask, a bandana or a scarf — must be worn whenever anyone is inside a business in San Juan County. A violation of the face-covering order is a misdemeanor punishable by fine and arrest and imprisonment up to 90 days pursuant to RCW 70.05.120.

Additionally, James extended the ban on transient lodging for non-essential purposes beyond its initial end date of May 31 until the county enters Phase Three.

On March 25, James issued an order to restrict non-essential travel to San Juan County, control contact with playgrounds and playground equipment and limit transient accommodations and camping effective immediately.

“This order is necessary to control and prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in San Juan County. This order has been made to protect all citizens but especially our most vulnerable islanders,” James said in a press release regarding the order. “This was an extremely difficult decision and one I do not take lightly. This will impact many of our local businesses and our islands’ residents.”

Transient accommodations prohibited by the order include hotels, bed and breakfasts, vacation rentals, transient moorings and airport camping.

Phase Three will likely be at least three weeks from the date the county entered Phase Two, in accordance with Inslee’s projection on May 1 that each phase will last at least three weeks.

“We are now moving forward to another phase of this mission for the state of Washington. And it is even more important now about the individual commitment of Washingtonians to help their community thrive,” Inslee said at a May 1 press conference. “It’s the individual decisions that all of us will be making in the next weeks and months to come that is really going to determine whether we succeed to prevent huge fatalities in our state.”

The approval to Phase Two can be revoked by the state if circumstances change within the county, such as an outbreak.

For the latest information on San Juan County’s response to the pandemic, visit