The Board of Yakima County Commissioners penned a letter to Governor Jay Inslee last week requesting him to declare the state of emergency over in response to COVID-19, shortly after he paused the Healthy Washington plan for all 39 counties to remain in Phase 3.
In the letter, the commissioners also called upon Gov. Inslee to remove all criteria under his ‘Road Map to Recovery” plan and to allow each county to independently manage health issues without concern of being set back to a more restrictive phase.
The purpose of the correspondence was to recognize the emergency orders have served to protect the lives and health of many Washingtonians from COVID for well over one year, but the effects of those restrictions have caused real harm and the letter highlighted those severe factors, Commissioner, District 3 LaDon Linde outlined during an interview on Friday, May 7.
“The impacts on business; the impacts on our school children; the impacts on people’s mental health and the impacts on our personal freedoms, such as freedom of assembly and freedom of worship. Even the impacts on other types of illness – people too scared to go to the hospital or clinic to be treated because of the panic over COVID,” Linde communicated.
He was hopeful the governor would take a cooperative step back and reassess the current situation while gaining additional perspective on the future guidelines for Yakima County during his recent two-week respite on movement in the Roadmap to Recovery reopening plan.
Inslee said the decision was made in consultation with the Department of Health and reflects current data suggesting the state’s fourth wave has hit a plateau. According to the DOH COVID-19 Data Dashboard, 70,431 people in Yakima County have been fully vaccinated as of Friday, May 7.
“Your rationale for taking control by emergency orders was to ensure everyone followed severely prohibitive measures to slow the spread of the virus to keep our hospitals from being overrun until we had a vaccine readily available. We have achieved these expressed goals. Between the vaccines received and the natural immunity acquired through exposure, we are in a much better place than we were even four months ago,” the letter read.
Counties will be reevaluated after the two-week break, Inslee announced on Tuesday, May 4. Yakima, along with 16 counties including King and Snohomish counties were failing both new case and hospitalization rate metrics and were at risk of moving to a more restrictive Phase 2 of the governor’s pandemic reopening plan.
Under Inslee’s current reopening plan, counties will be evaluated every three weeks on two metrics: the case rate over two weeks and the hospitalization rate over one week. Although counties originally had to meet both metrics to avoid moving backward, the governor announced April 9 counties could remain in Phase 3 by meeting one metric.
To remain in Phase 3, Yakima and larger counties like King and Snohomish need to average fewer than 200 new coronavirus cases for every 100,000 residents over 14 days and fewer than five hospitalizations for every 100,000 residents over seven days.
“From my perspective and having been obviously watching the data very closely for a year, I also have been watching the data come in for all these vaccine doses that have been available now in mass quantities for over six-weeks now. And very unfortunately I will say, we already were in a position three-weeks ago, where we started to have to destroy vaccines because it wasn’t being administered in the time that of course it needed to be,” Commissioner District 1 Amanda McKinney revealed.
The order to move back to Phase 2 would further restrict indoor capacity for businesses like restaurants, bars and gyms at 25%, while in Phase 3 those activities can operate at 50% capacity.
Commissioner, District 2 Ron Anderson attended the Washington State Association of Counties meeting over the weekend in Spokane and brought copies of the Board’s letter to share with constituents.
“I spoke with many commissioners at the meeting, and they were very supportive of our efforts to inform the governor that it’s time to end the emergency and phased reopening plan,” Anderson stated in an interview Monday, May 10.
He added, “All 39 counties will soon be receiving a copy of the letter.” The Commissioner anticipates officials will be writing letters communicating similar viewpoints, signaling the time is now for counties and health districts to move forward and begin solely managing health issues involving COVID-19.
“Our Health District is comprised of top-notch professionals that really know what they’re doing. They’re the ones who caught the state’s error with our data or we would be back to Phase 2,” Anderson conveyed.
The term ‘choice’ was another key point the BOC made in connection with individual rights and urged Inslee to be tolerant of others who disagree with his approach.
“The people must be allowed to make choices that you disagree with. The people must be allowed to make choices a public health official disagrees with,” the letter disclosed.
Commissioners agreed COVID vaccinations are a personal choice. People now have access to the free and readily available supply and should they choose not to get the vaccination, that’s their choice to make.
The Board conceded the early safeguards the governor set in place at the early stages of the pandemic have fulfilled their purpose. DOH guidelines need to be recommendations and not state law, the commissioners concurred.
“I will personally be pushing for Yakima County to remove our mask mandate at our next health board meeting which will be on May 12. And I’m going to suggest that when the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) mass vaccination site pulls out of town here at the end of the month, which seems like a pretty appropriate time for us all to collectively move forward,” McKinney declared.