Inslee announces “Safe Start” plan for re-opening
— Created May 6, 2020 by Kathy Reed
By Kathy Reed
We are now officially in Phase I of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start” plan to re-open the state’s economy. Inslee signed the COVID-19 order Monday, after announcing last Friday his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order will remain in effect through May 31 and could be extended, if necessary.
Phase I of the order took effect Tuesday, and allows for the re-opening of most state parks, as well as outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing, playing golf, boating and hiking, which was announced last week. In-progress construction is also allowed to continue, as previously announced, and hospitals are allowed to perform elective surgeries once more. Also allowed to resume operation under the first part of this four-phase plan are: Drive-in spiritual services; landscaping services; sales of cars, boats and recreational vehicles; retail business with curb-side, pick-up orders only; car washes; and pet walking services, all of which should be able to resume by mid-May, if not immediately, according to the Governor.
“I’ve got to just recognize at the outset something that all Washingtonians have to realize,” Inslee cautioned last week. “We have not won this fight against this virus. [This new order continues] a ban on public gatherings; many businesses will have to remain closed. I would like to tell you that we will all be able to make reservations on June 1, but I cannot. We will have to continue to monitor and assess the data on a daily basis and adapt as conditions allow.”
The Safe Start approach, as described by Inslee, is designed to begin re-opening businesses carefully, while reducing the health risks of COVID-19. There will be a minimum of three weeks between each phase, which means Phase IV – the lifting of most restrictions – would not take effect until sometime in July, at the earliest.
“This phased approach to re-opening our economy will allow us to move forward with a careful and thoughtful balance of our state’s health and economic needs,” Inslee said. “However, if infection rates and hospitalizations for COVID-related issues go up, I would not hesitate to scale these efforts back down to protect public health and save lives.”
Inslee said most Washington residents realize the effort to return to some normalcy requires community-wide effort.
“The vast majority of Washingtonians understand that if we stick together a while longer, we won’t lose all of the gains we’ve already made,” he said. “I understand the frustrations we all have shared. It’s so frustrating that we don’t want to do this twice. This is bad enough once. We should not take the risk to do this twice.
“We have to make decisions on hard-headed data and not wishes when it comes to life itself and the hard-headed science tells us that we’ve got one decision to make here if we’re going to continue on the road to recovery,” Inslee continued. “And that’s doing what we’re doing – make a cautious return of our businesses that we have set forth.”
Under the Safe Start plan, 10 counties in Washington will immediately be able to seek a variance from the State Department of Health to move to Phase II before the rest of the state. Those counties have a population of less than 75,000 and must not have not identified a new COVID-19 case for three weeks. Island County is NOT one of the 10, although commissioners told Whidbey Weekly via email it is something to consider going forward.
“We have not had an opportunity to discuss this as a Board,” said Island County Commissioner Janet St. Clair. “I anticipate this will be one of many items for our discussions this week.”
“I will recommend that we pursue it,” said Commissioner Jill Johnson. “With that said, I am not super confident we will be successful, given our location to high-count counties, our early spike and the age of our population. But, we have dramatically slowed the spread and I think that businesses are responsible enough to take necessary precautions and assume their own risk, and I think individuals have been educated enough to know what is safe and unsafe based on their own personal health.”
“If we can get the expanded testing results later this month, that will help us with the information we need to craft a data-driven plan toward recovery,” said Commissioner Helen Price Johnson.
Data derived from an abundance of testing is one of the criteria necessary before Washington State can fully re-open. Island County Public Health announced Monday it will be opening mobile testing sites May 11 to test Whidbey and Camano Island residents, whether they are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 or not. ICPH is working with WhidbeyHealth and other community partners to perform the tests, which will provide the state with good information on the infection rate to aid in the re-opening process. To sign up for testing, fill out the survey on the ICPH COVID-19 page or access the survey directly at www.surveymonkey.com/r/GR2COVID19.
Meanwhile, for those feeling cooped up lately, state parks on Whidbey Island are now open for day use only. This includes Fort Ebey, Fort Casey, Joseph Whidbey and Deception Pass State Parks. Campgrounds remain closed at this time and social distancing measures must be observed.
“We’re asking the public to follow the guidelines for responsible recreation on our COVID information page (parks.state.wa.us/COVID19),” said Anna Gill, communications director for the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission. “If locations become too crowded, our recourse is to close the park.”
For more details on the Safe Start plan go to governor.wa.gov. For details on the state response, visit coronavirus.wa.gov. For information on Island County, go to www.islandcountywa.gov/Health/Pages/COVID-19.aspx.