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State asks Clark County to reapply for Phase 2 reopening status

Ten days after the state Department of Health put Clark County’s Phase 2 application on hold, Clark County Public Health is on the brink of submitting a new application. Approval could come a few days later.

Public Health announced Tuesday that Washington Secretary of Health John Wiesman, who spoke Monday evening with Clark County Public Heath Officer Dr. Alan Melnick, has asked Clark County to resubmit its application. The county will not need to gain approval from the Clark County Council and Clark County Board of Health this time around, which should speed up the process.

Melnick said Public Health was working to submit the application by this morning at the latest. He said it will likely take a minimum of a couple days for the state Department of Health to reject or approve the application.

“Based on the level of COVID-19 activity in the community and our ability to respond quickly, effectively and appropriately, we’re optimistic we’ll receive a favorable review and approval to move to Phase 2,” Melnick said in a Tuesday morning press release.

If approved, Clark County barbershops, beauty salons, and restaurants could open with capacity restrictions and safety measures in place. Gatherings of up to five people from outside a household would also be allowed, and some retail stores could reopen with precautions.

The county first submitted a Phase 2 application on May 22, the same day an outbreak at Firestone Pacific Foods in Fruit Valley was publicly announced. That outbreak quickly escalated Clark County’s COVID-19 case count, and stopped the county from meeting every metric needed for Phase 2 approval.

A day later, the Department of Health put Clark County’s application on pause to see how the far outbreak spread, and how Public Health dealt with containment efforts.

After a burst of new cases last week, case counts have dwindled this week and resemble the slow trickle of cases the county was experiencing before the Firestone outbreak. There were two new cases confirmed Tuesday, both employees at Firestone. This week, 10 new cases have been confirmed, and six of them are among employees at Firestone, or close contacts of employees.

In total, 79 Firestone employees have contracted the virus, with 72 of those people residing in Clark County. Another 51 close contacts of employees, all Clark County residents, have also tested positive for COVID-19.

That means 130 of the county’s 560 confirmed cases, or about 23 percent, are linked to Firestone.

There have been 25 COVID-19 deaths in Clark County, but no deaths have been reported since May 15. Six people are hospitalized for coronavirus locally.

Melnick said that more than 20 Firestone cases were confirmed in people who showed no symptoms when they were tested, which signals the need to follow physical distancing guidelines and wear masks when in public. He said those precautions are for the greater good of society, just like following traffic laws.

“We’re recommending that people who go out in public wear a face mask, not to protect you, but to protect the other person,” he said.


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