Anacortes and Skagit County could move soon to Phase 3 of Gov. Jay Inslee's four-phase plan to reopen the COVID-wracked economy, and Anacortes Mayor Laurie Gere again urged residents to remain vigilant against the virus.
Noting that Phase 3 will bring the city "one step closer to our return to normalcy," Gere warned in her June 17 community briefing that any surge in local COVID-19 cases would delay the area's advance to the next phase.
Skagit County had an increase of 25 new cases in a two-week period after moving to Phase 2 on June 5, according to data on the Skagit County Public Health website. Most of those cases have been in Mount Vernon, according to the Public Health website. There has been no appreciable increase in COVID-19 cases in Anacortes.
But those countywide numbers push the limits of a key benchmark that must be met in order to advance to the next phase: 25 or fewer per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period.
"We must slow the spread," Gere said.
Other metrics by which the state Health Department determines whether a county moves to the next phase:
- Available hospital beds at less than 80% occupancy.
- Adequate testing capacity.
- Contact of 90 percent of cases by phone or in person within 24 hours of receipt of a positive lab test result, and reaching all that person’s contacts within 48 hours of a positive test result.
"We need to remain committed to all of these categories in order to move quickly through the phased approach," Gere said. "And here in Anacortes, we're doing a great job."
COVID-19, a contagious respiratory disease for which a vaccine has yet to be developed, has as of June 21 killed 15 in Skagit County, 1,265 in Washington state, 119,615 in the U.S. and 461,715 globally, according to data from county, national and world health agencies. While Skagit County saw an uptick in the number of confirmed cases, the number of recoveries has also increased and there have been few new hospitalizations, according to Skagit County Public Health.
Gere again asked residents to wear masks, practice social distancing — keeping a six-foot distance from individuals not in their household — and wash hands. To help contain the virus, Inslee is requiring all employers to supply face masks to employees.
Phase 3 will unleash more economic and recreational activity, and will come at a vital time. Some 22,314 Skagitonians filed first-time unemployment claims from March 15 to June 13, according to the state Employment Security Department. Skagit's unemployment rate in April — the last month reported by Employment Security — was 19.1%, the third-highest in the state.
Here's what's allowed in Phase 3:
- Outdoor group recreational sports activities of up to 50 people; recreational facilities at less than 50% capacity (gyms, public pools, etc.)
- Gatherings of up to 50 people.
- Indoor spiritual or religious services of 50% or 400 people, whichever is less. Choir performances will not be allowed, though, and health requirements for social distancing and facial coverings will remain the same as the guidance for previous phases.
- Non-essential travel.
- Restaurants/taverns at less than 75% capacity, table size no larger than 10; bar areas in restaurants/taverns at less than 25% capacity; theaters at less than 50% capacity.
- Face-to-face government services (telework remains strongly encouraged), libraries, museums, all other business activities not yet listed except for nightclubs and events with greater than 50 people.
To bolster local recovery efforts, the city will award $150,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds to 15 local businesses for use in covering expenses as they reopen, Gere said. And the City Council will consider on July 6 a resolution that would allow restaurant and retail use of sidewalks and pocket-park space in the Central Business District.
Gere's next COVID-19 briefing is scheduled for 4 p.m. June 24 on Channel 10 and on the city website.