Coronavirus Skagit

Skagit County leaders are planning to move the county to Phase 2 of the governor’s Safe Start plan Friday, with or without approval from the state.

At a Thursday afternoon meeting, the three county commissioners  — along with four county mayors — expressed frustration with the delay, saying they feel the state's inaction is causing undue harm to individuals and businesses.

Gov. Jay Inslee's four-phase Safe Start plan promotes a gradual reopening for the state economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Skagit County first submitted an application last Friday — same day the governor changed his criteria for moving to Phase 2. The county sent an updated application Monday, and provided additional information Wednesday at the request of the state Department of Health.

Commissioner Ken Dahlstedt said he was told by state Secretary of Health John Wiesman to expect a response by noon Friday.

The commissioners will meet at 4 p.m. Friday, with plans to vote on reopening the county at 6 p.m. if the state has not responded. 

"Either we will be in Phase 2, or I'm ready to take action with my fellow commissioners," Dahlstedt said.

Commissioner Lisa Janicki said she knows the county has no authority to move itself out of Phase 1, and said restaurants and other businesses could be penalized by the state Liquor and Cannabis Board or state Labor & Industries for reopening.

Further, she said she knows the state could remove the commissioners from office, or bar them from running for public office again if they followed through.

By failing to grant Skagit County's application despite it having met Inslee's criteria, Janicki said the state is holding struggling local businesses hostage.

"It seems so patently unfair," she said. "It's time to draw a line in the sand."

Mount Vernon Mayor Jill Boudreau said county residents have done everything required of them to reduce spread of the virus, and said it's frustrating to see inaction from the state.

"We have met these guidelines now for a week," Boudreau said. "I support anything we can do to get to Phase 2."

Also at the Thursday meeting, county Public Health Director Jennifer Johnson said Northwest Pathology, the company performing the majority of the county's COVID-19 tests, is beginning to report its data directly to the state.

She said this will fix an ongoing inaccuracy with the state's testing data, which inflated the county's positive rate beyond the acceptable amount for Phase 2.

"The situation is improving rapidly," she said.

— Reporter Brandon Stone: bstone@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH

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