Most remaining businesses now open in Phase 3

Businesses waiting on state guidance; theaters, libraries, museums expected to open

Whitman+County+entered+Phase+3+on+June+6.+Several+business+are+still+closed%2C+awaiting+opening+guidelines+from+the+governor%27s+office.+

SPENCER ECHON | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE

Whitman County entered Phase 3 on June 6. Several business are still closed, awaiting opening guidelines from the governor's office.

EMMA LEDBETTER, Evergreen reporter

John Wiesman, Washington’s Secretary of Health, approved Whitman County to enter Phase 3 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start Washington Plan on June 6.

Phase 3 allows most remaining closed businesses to reopen once they can meet safety guidelines from the governor’s office. 

Whitman County has been in Phase 2 since May 15. Phase 2 allowed certain businesses to reopen, including personal and professional services as well as restaurants at 50 percent capacity. 

Troy Henderson, director of Whitman County Public Health, said there has been some concern with local businesses because very little state guidance for Phase 3 has been released and they cannot reopen until that occurs. 

Businesses reopening in Phase 3 include theaters at 50 percent capacity as well as libraries and museums, according to Inslee’s plan. 

Restaurants and taverns will remain open and may seat at 75 percent capacity, according to the plan. Bar areas can be open at 25 percent capacity. 

Government services where employees interact face-to-face with patrons can open, but telework is still strongly encouraged when possible, according to the plan.

Gatherings of no more than 50 people are permitted in Phase 3, according to the plan. 

Outdoor recreation with groups of no more than 50 people is also allowed, according to the plan. This includes indoor and outdoor professional sporting events, outdoor youth sporting events, and outdoor adult recreational sporting events, according to guidelines from the governor’s office

Phase 3 allows individuals to resume non-essential travel, according to the plan. High-risk individuals are strongly encouraged to stay home unless traveling for Phase 1, 2 or 3 activities. 

Henderson said Whitman County is progressing well through the steps of the state plan. 

“I don’t foresee anything significant changing until the WSU student body returns,” Henderson said. “I think that is the largest challenge we will face as a county dealing with COVID-19, just because of the volume of folks traveling from various areas.”

Phil Weiler, WSU’s Vice President for Marketing and Communications, said WSU officials are working closely with the Whitman County Health Department to plan for students returning. 

Whitman County moving into Phase 3 does not affect WSU operations in a large way, Weiler said. This is because higher education is considered an essential service and does not technically have to follow the phased approach to reopen. 

Henderson said residents were generally responsible and did a good job of wearing masks and social distancing during Phase 2. 

He said he is not concerned about the six cases of COVID-19 that were recently confirmed in Whitman County affecting plans for reopening because they all shared a common social link. 

“I have quite a bit of confidence that we’re going to be able to maintain it from growing much beyond what it is,” he said. 

Plans for Phase 4

Nightclubs and concert venues are the only businesses that remain closed in Phase 3, according to the plan. Gatherings of more than 50 people are permitted in Phase 4. 

Safe Start Washington is set up for each county to spend at least three weeks in each phase.  Henderson said the state has not yet determined when Phase 4 applications can be submitted. 

Art Swannack, Whitman County District 1 Commissioner, said the secretary of health expressed doubts that Phase 4 would happen in 2020, but there has been no official word yet. 

“If you have, for example, a big football game with lots of people, or some type of concert, how do you track all the people if you have some scattered COVID cases amongst the 20,000 or 30,000 people?” Swannack said. “There’s no vaccine and there’s no real medication known to take care of COVID.”

Whitman County Commissioners have discussed the possibility of an intermediate phase that would come before Phase 4 and allow large gatherings over 50 people, but still have some limit on attendance, Swannack said.