In an interview with Pierce County Councilman Derek Young (D-7th), Young assured constituents that they wouldn’t have to wait much longer for the burger and beer they’ve been dying for. With the county’s transition into Phase 2, people can look forward to the reopening of small businesses and restaurants at reduced capacity.
“This was a really in-depth application and it was tough for us to meet (Phase 2 requirements)” Young said.
While the county application was in review, Gov. Jay Inslee announced an update to the state metrics to match the standard across the country. The new standard relaxed metrics slightly and required counties to have no more than 25 new cases per 100,000 people within a 14-day period.
“Pierce County did not meet all the metrics,” Young said. “We were close, but we weren’t in the red on any of them either.”
In the end, both Inslee and the Washington State Secretary of Health, John Wiesman, approved Pierce County for Phase 2 with the expectation that the county would implement a system of response incorporating increased testing and the introduction of case investigators and contact tracing.
“The second someone tests positive, the case investigator would get in contact with them to trace where they’ve been and who they’ve been in contact with to help maintain the spread of the virus,” Young said. Contact tracing is a common public health technique that will operate with voluntary participation and is a critical component in the next phase.
Phase 2 means that most businesses will be able to reopen. Restaurants will be allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity. No one can sit at a bar, but people can still order a drink from their table. Outdoor religious or faith-based services can be held with up to 100 people. County courts will reopen to address the court backlog. People can also meet with up to five others at a time from outside their home.
Young suggested that community members “figure out which five people you want to spend time with and try to keep it to that.” This will help to limit the number of contacts going around while the virus continues to spread.
Young said that a mandatory mask order went into effect June 8. Masks are not required outside, but multiple studies have shown that even homemade cloth masks reduce the spread of disease indoors.
With the receipt of federal CARES Act funding, the county received $158 million for local use in four areas: public health, economic development and recovery, human services, and essential government services. Despite being frustrated with how slow the process has gone for public health services, Young said he was excited that “on the economic development side, we’ve done some really good stuff,” to aid the transition into Phase 2.
All businesses have been offered free supplies of masks and no-touch thermometers for employees and customers. The county started a simple small business loan program that can go into effect immediately with a no-interest loan of up to $1,000 per employee. The county is looking into converting the loans into grants for those that apply.
Worker retraining programs have also been developed to help accommodate the sudden change in the job market. The county continues to look into options for expanded broadband coverage in rural areas such as the Key Peninsula. All programs are aimed to help people who have been impacted by this crisis “through no fault of their own,” Young said.
At a minimum, Phase 2 will last three weeks, Young said. However, he cautioned community members to think twice about their decisions at this time.
“Now, here’s the deal. We can fall back into Phase 1 if something bad happens. This is not a licensed free-for-all,” he said. With the beginning of wildfire and then flu season, it’s unknown whether the county will experience a second wave of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths. “People need to continue following the guidance of local and state health officials and maintain social distancing in order for this to work,” Young said.
“Sadly, we have three major crises happening all at once, and they are somewhat if not completely related,” Young said. People in public health have agonizing over this because these are health related disparities as much as they are economic and racial disparities. Young advised community members to “at least wear masks and try to social distance” while participating in protests. In a way, the increased community support and accountability towards one another “has been one of the really positive things we’ve seen coming out of the pandemic,” he said.
“The country that went into this pandemic can’t be the country that came out of it,” Young said. “We have to work to be part of a solution,” Young said.
For more information on Washington State’s response to the coronavirus and use of masks go to www.doh.wa.gov.