New “Roadmap to Recovery” plan could have some bumps
— Created January 13, 2021 by Kathy Reed
By Kathy Reed
Forget Washington’s “Safe Start” plan to reopen the economy in the wake of COVID – Gov. Jay Inslee has announced a new, regional approach, dubbed “Healthy Washington – A Roadmap to Recovery.”
The plan, which took effect this week, separates the state’s 39 counties into eight regions, as opposed to the county-by-county approach used in the now defunct Safe Start plan. Island County is in the “North” region, along with San Juan, Skagit and Whatcom counties. As of this week, all regions in the state are in Phase 1.
“Our primary concern throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been the health and safety of all Washington residents,” Inslee said Monday as he signed the Healthy Start proclamation. “This plan continues those efforts, and puts us on a path towards recovery.”
“Our intent is to ensure that regions, the communities within them, and our state as whole have a balanced path toward recovery from the pandemic that relies on multiple key metrics that look at disease trajectory and health system capacity” said Deputy Secretary for COVID Response Lacy Fehrenbach. “This plan offers the start of a clear way forward as we continue to slow the spread of COVID-19, while we get more people vaccinated over the next few months.”
The Healthy Washington plan currently offers only two phases. All regions will be evaluated by the State Department of Health every Friday and regions would begin the appropriate restrictions for whatever phase they are in the following Monday. To move from Phase 1 to Phase 2 of the plan, regions must meet four metrics: A minimum 10 percent decrease of COVID-19 cases per 100-thousand people over the previous two-week period; a decrease in new COVID-19 hospitalizations; 90 percent or less of total ICU occupancy; and a test positivity rate of less than 10 percent. To remain in Phase 2, regions must meet three of the four metrics. Regions in Phase 2 that fail to meet those metrics on any given Friday will be moved back to Phase 1, which means restrictions could potentially change back and forth each week.
Island County Commissioner Janet St. Clair said she has mixed feelings about the new reopening plan.
“I am appreciative the stated purpose is to move us forward and reduce restrictions,” she said in an email to Whidbey Weekly. “I also have advocated for a regional approach in data analysis and healthcare readiness as Islanders and the virus cross jurisdictional boundaries on a regular basis, especially in my district when they seek healthcare.
“Economically, I have concerns about what this means for Island County, as we were one of the few counties in Phase 3,” St. Clair continued. “We are also a county government that has invested significantly to support our small business community and I hope we can continue to sustain those businesses. I have shared those concerns with the Governor’s office and requested additional support for small business.”
The new approach means that just one county within a region can affect the entire group, potentially forcing other counties to remain in Phase 1 even if all other counties are meeting all four metrics. Local businesses say that can make it difficult to operate.
“This new plan makes it much more difficult and challenging for us, especially in Oak Harbor, where we were forced to close completely because we don’t have a big enough outdoor patio area to install tents and heaters like we did in Coupeville,” said Mitch Aparicio, one of the owners of Penn Cove Brewing.
“It’s also unfortunate that we are being lumped in with Skagit and Whatcom counties,” he continued. “Having to wait each week on pins and needles for an announcement for what zones are approved to reopen, then the next week having to quickly close again if the numbers spike, causes more uncertainty for us because it makes it almost impossible to forecast labor and purchase food goods and product to resell, not to mention how this will affect unemployment benefits and ongoing eligibility for our staff.”
The plan sparked a similar reaction from Whidbey Island Center for the Arts’ Executive Director. The organization had co-authored the Safe Start plan’s guidelines for performing arts venues.
“Quite frankly, this newest plan of putting regions together – as Island County is tied to [San Juan], Skagit and Whatcom – is really mind-boggling,” said Verna Everitt. “Together, the [four] counties have to meet a set of criteria in order for all of us to move into Phase 2, which allows WICA to operate at 25 percent capacity. That is great news for us, but the caveat is, if collectively we do not continue to meet the criteria, which will be analyzed in weekly intervals, then we would have to close again. In other words, we could open for one week and then close until the numbers are at acceptable levels.
“We can’t operate like that,” she continued. “We book our shows or produce shows in advance. It would not be fair for artists or staff to prepare for work, expecting to perform that work, just to have it cancelled.”
Everitt said WICA has come up with a plan and stands ready to open under Phase 2 with National Theatre Live and Broadway HD.
“We have a library of recorded stage productions that are breathtakingly stunning and we’ve worked for over a year to secure the rights to be an official exhibitor,” she said. “It’s far easier under Inslee’s new plan to show films because there are no contracts involved, no rehearsals, no heartbreak if the show is cancelled. But, this is truly no way to operate an arts organization or any business for that matter.”
The eight regions in the new Healthy Washington plan are based on Emergency Medical Services regions used to evaluate healthcare services. Additional phases could be added in the future.
“Our goal is to reopen our economy safely, and to do it as quickly as possible,” said the state’s new Secretary of Health, Umair Shah. “The governor’s new plan will allow all of us to understand what measures are being used for the path forward, including when it makes sense to ease restrictions across the state.”
Find more information on the Healthy Washington plan at governor.wa.gov.