Phase IV on pause, masks now required

— Created July 1, 2020 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Gov. Jay Inslee has hit the pause button on the state’s “Safe Start” plan due to increasing COVID-19 cases.

As of now, all Washington counties will be stopped at Phase III, a benchmark Island County hit last week. Those counties still in Phase I or II will be allowed to progress as far as the third phase of reopening, but Phase IV, which would lift virtually all restrictions, will not be approved any time soon.

“Phase IV would mean a return to normal activity and we can’t do that now due to the continued rise in cases across the state,” Inslee said in a press release Saturday. “We all want to get back to doing all the things we love in Washington during the summer, and fully open our economy, but we aren’t there yet. This is an evolving situation and we will continue to make decisions based on the data.” 

Eight counties were eligible to move to Phase IV before the pause was announced Saturday. Island County would have potentially able to apply for Phase IV in two weeks, pending approval by the State Department of Health.

As it is, Island County has seen several new cases of COVID-19 in the last two weeks, bringing the total of positive cases of the virus to 192 as of Monday evening, after weeks of holding steady at 181.

“Nine new cases in Island County are in three households – one individual and two families of four,” said Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson. “The location of original infection for each of these families appears to have happened outside of our jurisdiction. All are successfully quarantined at home.”

News of the new Island County cases follows a mandatory mask order put in place last Friday by Washington Secretary of Health, John Wiesman. Facial coverings are now required to be worn in indoor spaces as well as outdoor public spaces where individuals cannot maintain social distancing.

“The best thing Washingtonians can do to slow the spread of the virus and save lives is to wear facial coverings, continue to maintain physical distancing and good hygiene practices,” Wiesman said. “Now that testing supplies are available, it is critical to get a test if you have any symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19.”

While the face mask order is enforceable by law, local law enforcement officials are more interested in educating, rather than ticketing, those who do not comply with the mandate.

“Our priority is the safety of the public,” read a Facebook statement from Island County Sheriff Rick Felici. “During COVID-19 restrictions, we will be focusing on educating people on how to best help keep themselves, their families, and our communities safe, especially our most vulnerable members.

“When deputies encounter people who are not complying with the governor’s order, we will remind them of the current restrictions and the reasons for them with a goal of education and voluntary participation as we all work to reduce the impact of this virus,” the statement continued. “We have no desire to arrest or ticket anyone for violations of the current restrictions.”

Price Johnson said she hopes Island County residents will continue to put health and safety first and is pleased with how many people are following the new rule.

“I’m grateful that our residents and visitors are mostly following the rules to keep each other safe in this ongoing crisis. I hope we can continue to do that,” she said.

While public health and safety must remain a priority, helping Island County businesses hit hard by the lengthy shutdown is equally important.

“My guess is we will be in Phase III for the duration of the summer. So stay strong,” Price Johnson said. “The county has launched a three-pronged approach with the help of Federal CARES funding to help our communities in this time of need: Public Health response, Human Services response, and the Small Business Assistance grant programs.

“The small business grant programs are going out across North Whidbey/Oak Harbor, Camano, Langley, Coupeville and unincorporated areas covered by the Ports of Coupeville and South Whidbey,” she continued. “This is a great collaboration across the municipalities in our county, which I hope will pave the way for more joint efforts in the future.”

With Phase IV currently out of reach, Price Johnson said cooperation is key over the next several weeks.

“The best thing everyone can do to keep Island County safe,  get our businesses open, and to get more people back to work is what you’ve heard before –  wash your hands, wear a mask when you are around other people,” she said. “It is a good idea to also limit how many people you come into contact with because if you become infected, you’ll want to remember where you went and who you were with, so we can work to keep the virus from spreading.”

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