You may have heard that Washington State has launched the “Safe Start” phased plan in addressing COVID-19. Under this approach, counties may apply to the Washington State Secretary of Health to allow additional activity in their communities. On June 5, Skagit County was approved to move to Phase 2 of Governor Inslee’s Safe Start plan.
How Did Skagit County Qualify to Move to Phase 2?
The Safe Start plan sets targets that counties much reach before moving to the next phase. The plan includes targets for COVID-19 activity, hospital readiness, testing, case and contact investigation, and protecting high-risk people. For example, over the two weeks prior to our application, Skagit County had 10 COVID cases per 100,000 people, which is well beneath the target of 25 per 100,000. Skagit County was also able to show that it had enough hospital beds available, and met contact and case investigations targets. Testing capacity also is available; Skagit County tests an average of 191 people per day with the ability to increase the number of tests if demand increases.
What Changes Will Occur in Phase 2?
Some additional businesses and services will be able to open, and some small, infrequent gatherings can happen. Examples of Phase 2 expansions include:
- In person retailers who are able to use physical distancing can open.
- Personal services, like hairstylists, who are able to use physical distancing and protective measures can open.
- Manufacturing businesses and office-based businesses can open, using physical distancing and telework when possible.
- Small gatherings of five or fewer people from outside one’s immediate household are allowed, once per week.
Governor Inslee also changed guidance to allow for outdoor religious gatherings of up to 100 people, and in Phase 2. Religious gatherings indoors with 25 percent capacity or no more than 50 people, whichever is fewer. You are legally able to participate in these activities, but Skagit Public Health has concerns about the health risks involved in any large group gatherings. As we learned from the Skagit Chorale Outbreak study, COVID-19 is highly contagious and spreads quickly through large groups. So, remote or web-based events or services are safer. If larger groups gather for services, it is vital that people practice good physical distancing and that everyone wears a mask. Additionally, high-risk people should continue to stay home.
Staying home is the safest thing you can do right now, but that is not possible for everyone. As Phase 2 starts, people should think through their personal risk factors, and use all recommended practices to limit the spread of COVID-19. These practices include:
- Everyone who is medically able to should wear masks in public.
- Large-scale summer events should still be canceled. Skagit County Public Health will continue to evaluate events as summer progresses.
- Physical distancing of at least six feet should still be used.
- People at higher risk of severe illness should stay home and away from large groups.
- Employees are still encouraged to telecommute if possible.
People in high-risk populations are strongly encouraged to limit their participation in Phase 2 activities and business services. High-risk populations are currently defined by the CDC as:
- People 65 years and older
- People who live in a nursing home or long-term care facility
- People of all ages with underlying medical conditions, particularly if not well controlled, including:
- People with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
- People who have serious heart conditions
- People who are immunocompromised
- People with severe obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 40 or higher)
- People with diabetes
- People with chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis
- People with liver disease
One other important change is that beginning June 8, all employees must wear a cloth facial covering, unless they working alone in an office, vehicle, job site, or when the job has no in-person interaction. Employers must provide their workers with appropriate masks for their job duties.
What Happens After Phase 2?
If Skagit County continues to meet the Safe Start Plan targets, we can move to Phase 3 in as soon as three weeks after qualifying for Phase 2. However, if the virus is spreading rapidly, a county may need to return to an earlier phase until the virus is more under control. That is why all Skagitonians should take precautions to limit their contact with people outside their households, wear masks in public, and maintain good social distancing.
For More Information
Governor Inslee’s Safe Start Website: https://coronavirus.wa.gov/what-you-need-know/safe-start