Commissioners ask governor for variance

Island County commissioners asked Gov. Jay Inslee for special permission to allow some small businesses to get back to work immediately instead of waiting for the next phase of reopening.

Last week, the three commissioners signed a letter that laid out the COVID-19 “areas of readiness” in the county, which included the limited number of confirmed cases, the low rate of hospitalization, the capacity of the health care system, testing capacity and quarantine capacity.

“We believe we do have ample capacity in our system to allow for a limited and measured reopening of some businesses into phase II,” the letter states.

The county has not received a response from the governor’s office.

The governor offered counties the possibility of getting a variance from the phased reopening approach, but Island County does not meet the population criteria — less than 75,000 people — or the criteria of having no new cases in 14 days.

Nevertheless, Commissioner Jill Johnson argued that the county should still try to obtain a variance from the phasing plan since the criteria are somewhat arbitrary, the phases have discrepancies and the statewide rules don’t necessarily make sense for Island County. She described it as “one size fits all, very much with an urban perspective.”

“If you do have an aggressive safety plan, you should be able to open,” she said at a board meeting.

She also argued that it doesn’t make sense, for example, that new construction isn’t allowed in the first phase while ongoing construction is.

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said personal responsibility should be considered when it comes to setting rules.

“Anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable visiting those local businesses doesn’t have to,” she said.

Price Johnson also emphasized that small businesses are a vital part of the county’s economy.

The letter states that the phased reopening is unfair since it allows large businesses and corporations to operate while small businesses cannot. It points to the example of Petco, where dog groomers are allowed to operate, while sole-proprietor groomers in their own locations are shut down.

“Local circumstances, particularly in rural areas and small town, must be considered,” the letter says.

The commissioners’ letter states that businesses that reopen will be required to create a safely plan that conforms to the state requirements.

The commissioners are asking that nearly all small businesses be allowed to reopen immediately. That includes drive-in movie theaters, pet services, retail stores, housekeeping, office-based businesses, manufacturing, new construction and restaurants.

“Working with our local communities on workplace protocols,” the letter states, “while reinforcing the importance of personal responsibility, sanitation, and social distancing, we can contain the spread of COVID-19 to levels which are manageable given our health care system, quarantine facilities, and tracking capacity.”

Phase 2 is set to begin June 1, but the rules for businesses continue to evolve.

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