Adams County applies for a Phase 2 variance

by Rachal Pinkerton
Staff Writer | May 21, 2020 5:24 PM

RITZVILLE - On Thursday, May 21, the Adams County Commissioners announced that they have completed the application for a variance to open to Phase 2, according to a press release from the Office of the Adams County Commissioners on May 21. The State of Washington has acknowledged that they have received the application.

In their letter to Governor Jay Inslee and Secretary of Health John Weisman, the Adams County Commissioners wrote that they were grateful that Adams County was being able to seek the variance. They stated that they were joined by their partner cities and towns in encouraging the governor to grant the variance., “allowing a distressed rural county to make a critical step forward in its effort to reopen.”

“All the leaders of Adams County will continue to respond to, and follow the guidance provided by the State of Washington in the fight against COVID-19,” wrote Adams County Commissioners, John N. Marshall, Roger L. Hartwig and Terrance J. Thompson. “However, we must also implement steps to stop the rapid decline of our economy, find a path to reopen locally-owned businesses, and help all of our citizens reduce the mental and emotional stress, and financial burdens caused by this pandemic.”

As part of the application packet submitted to the state, Dr. Alexander Brzezny, MD, the health officer for the Adams County Health Department included a letter of support. In the letter, Brzezny stated that since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, there have not been any concentrated outbreaks in “workplaces, congregate living or institutional settings in Adams County.”

Brzezny also pointed out that the number of positive cases in the county has been in decline for more than four weeks. In the last two weeks, the number of tests that have returned positive has only been about 3.9 percent of all tests returned.

“The number of tests performed in Adams County has remained steady at about 25 tests per week during the last four weeks,” Brzezny wrote. “However, Adams County residents are also receiving care and testing in neighboring counties (mainly Grant, Benton, Franklin); those tests are not always reported, especially if the results are negative. Therefore the true percentage of COVID-19 positive tests could be lower than the percent number calculated from available data.”

Adams County has not had any hospitalizations for the past six weeks. They have not had any deaths from COVID-19. If a surge in people needing treatment were to happen, Adams County hospitals would have room to handle the increase.

“While the presence of COVID-19 in our community demands a continued vigilance and a readiness to re-impose more stringent community-wide mitigation measures in case of a disease surge, it is my assessment that Adams County is experiencing stable and low local SARS-CoV-2 activity at this time,” Brzezny wrote. “As a result and with the county’s existing healthcare capacity supported by a robust public health response, recommend requesting a variance to implement all Phase 2 modifications per the Governor’s ‘Safe Start Washington.’”

Prior to this variance application, Adams County had submitted another application that was denied because they didn’t meet the then state requirement of no new COVID-19 cases in a three-week period. On Tuesday, May 19, Inslee announced that he was expanding the criteria allowing counties to apply for variances to the state’s reopening plan, explicitly including Adams County in the list of counties that can now apply. The new criteria potentially allows ten new counties to apply for the variance.

In Phase 2 of Inslee’s reopening plan, limited opening of restaurants, salons, barbershops and retail outlets are allowed. To be able to open, counties can only have approximately .71 positive cases per 100,000 residents per day or the equivalent of five cases per 100,000 residents a week.

Charles H. Featherstone contributed to this report.

Rachal Pinkerton may be reached via email at rpinkerton@suntribunenews.com.