Kitsap can now apply to reopen early. But a new COVID-19 case could delay the green-light – Kitsap Sun

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Under news rules laid out by Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday, Kitsap County is now eligible to apply to expedite the state’s four-part reopening plan, which would allow the county to move to phase two sooner than other parts of the state.

However, a new case at the Washington State Veterans Homes in Port Orchard, which announced Tuesday an employee had tested positive for COVID-19, could put a wrench in that process. The Kitsap Public Health district says it won’t give the necessary green-light to apply until health officials are confident the incident does not involve a wider spread, delaying the process for at least a week. 

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Kitsap is among ten additional counties that can apply for a variance to the governor’s coronavirus recovery plan, which allows smaller and mid-size counties with fewer new cases to potentially open some businesses more quickly. 

Under the latest rules, counties must have fewer than 10 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past two weeks. Kitsap County, which has a population of more than 270,000 people, has reported only seven new cases since the start of May. Of the state’s 39 total counties, eligible counties include Spokane, Adams, Mason, Thurston, Lewis, Clark, Clallam,  Island and San Juan are also now eligible to apply. 

In order to apply, counties must include a local public health officer’s recommendation, a letter from hospitals confirming capacity and approval by county commissioners. 

But Kitsap Health Officer Dr. Susan Turner says her recommendation on the variance will be delayed until at least May 28 out of concern over a new COVID-19 case at the Port Orchard veterans home, formerly known as Retsil. 

With a Retsil staff member testing positive for the virus, the health district says they won’t make a decision until they are confident there isn’t community spread. Though no residents at the skilled-nursing home have tested positive for COVID-19 thus far, additional cases at the facility could significantly impact the county’s coronavirus response. 

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“We are all eager to take steps toward resuming regular business and social activities in our county, but we have to make sure we can take those steps safely and sustainably,” Turner said in a public statement Tuesday afternoon. “We appreciate the understanding of Kitsap residents as we move forward with care.”

The Kitsap County Board of Commissioners have signalled their support for a more speedy reopening process. On Monday, Kitsap’s three commissioners sent a letter to the governor’s office urging the state to let the county move through the reopening process faster, citing the fact that Kitsap has far fewer cases and deaths than other parts of the state. 

“We just ask for a near-term opportunity to allow more of our citizens to return to work under heightened and reasonable health protocols,” the letter stated.

Before Tuesday’s announcement, Kitsap did not match the state’s rules for a variance. Previous guidelines allowed only counties with less than 75,000 residents and no new COVID-19 case in the last three weeks to apply for some businesses to reopen faster. 

Under the previous criteria, 10 smaller counties were already given permission to move into the second phase, the governor announced Monday, which allows retail shops, hair and nail salons, pet grooming and restaurants with limited capacity to reopen with health precautions in place.

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Other counties, including King County, remain in the first phase of the governor’s plan, which involves the most stringent restrictions on non-essential businesses, restaurants and most other parts of society. Inslee has said he hopes those other counties can open by June 1, though it will depend on what the data shows at that time.

Information from the Associated Press was included in this story.

Austen Macalus is the Kitsap Sun’s social services reporter — covering health care, homelessness and how programs are serving those in need. He can be reached at austen.macalus@kitsapsun.com or 360-536-6423. 

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