Governor Jay Inslee recently announced that several new regions would progress to Phase 2 of the “Healthy Washington” plan. Island County is grouped in the “North Region”, a population of 474,759 people, with Whatcom, Skagit, and San Juan counties in the latest program. Island County represents only 18% of the total population of that collective group.
This latest proposal represents the ever-changing nature of the Governor’s treatment of the CCP virus’s response since enacting emergency powers early in 2020. Earlier plans attempted to manage responses based on individual county metrics. Governor Inslee initially implemented the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order on March 23, 2020. This original measure took aggressive measures delineating essential vs. non-essential businesses and “prohibiting travel, social, recreational and religious gatherings.”
In May of 2020, the Governor’s office amended the earlier plan with the “Safe Start” program having individual counties submit “County Variance Requests” based on meeting key metrics. Under this plan, Island County reached Phase 3 in nearly a month due to meeting all key metrics: COVID-19 activity, healthcare system readiness, testing, case and contact investigating, and protecting high-risk populations. No counties were able to reach Phase 4 under this program.
When the Governor implemented the latest “Healthy Washington” plan, several Island County leaders, including recently re-elected Commissioner Jill Johnson, expressed disappointment with the county’s return to Phase 1. “The regionalization has disproportionately impacted our county. It’s very difficult to explain to our citizens why having dinner in downtown Seattle is safer than having dinner in downtown Coupeville.” Commissioner Johnson pointed out the arbitrariness of the latest measures grouping her constituents disproportionately with significantly larger counties. “We’re in a region that doesn’t even represent necessarily our regional behavior.”
Newly elected Commissioner Melanie Bacon, distressed by the impacts the CCP virus has had on her own life [00:58:23], expressed to her fellow board members, “I haven’t seen my grandchildren in over a year. It just makes me feel good to be able to see them [on pictures on her wall] to be able to see them and smiling.” Commissioner Bacon explained that the stress of the government response might inspire peculiar behavior, “I’m not going out, I’m not going to events, so I’ve decided I’m going to start dressing up for more County Commissioner meetings. As a forewarning, if one day I walk in here in an evening gown, that you know what that’s all about.”
The change in Island County’s advance to Phase 2 comes as the weather brought several inches of snow, blanketing the region. The Governor’s office intends that “The holiday weekend provides a large portion of a restaurant’s yearly revenue, and by moving up the region’s reopening date will allow dining establishments to benefit.” Unfortunately, that intent is buried for now.
The endless restrictions by the Governor’s office continue to be varied and shifting. The Island County Council of Governments’ meeting was a community effort to express the county’s frustration and the negative impacts the Governor’s office continues to have overall. Though the response may have helped move the county to Phase 2, there may not be confidence newer restrictions aren’t on the way.