Skagit County needs to have no more than 32 new COVID-19 cases in a 14-day span to be eligible to apply for Phase 3 of the governor’s Safe Start plan.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the 14-day number had reached 29 after documenting seven new cases in one day.

Despite increases seen in the past week, the Skagit County commissioners remain optimistic the county will be eligible for the next phase of reopening later this month. The number 32 is based on the county’s population.

Now in Phase 2, Skagit County restaurants, salons and retail stores have been allowed to reopen at limited capacity. After staying at Phase 2 for at least three weeks, the county could apply on June 26 to move to Phase 3. Approval depends on its number of cases, testing capacity and vacant hospital beds.

Howard Leibrand, the county health officer, has expressed concern.

All three commissioners said they will follow guidance from Leibrand if he says the county isn’t prepared to apply to move to the next phase.

“I always listen to Dr. Leibrand when he asserts caution,” said Commissioner Lisa Janicki.

Janicki said she’s concerned with people’s resistance to wearing masks or social distancing, saying that behavior puts everyone else in danger.

“You can be cavalier about your own health, (but) why be cavalier with their lives?” she said. “That’s what I don’t understand.”

While new positive cases is the most visible metric, she said the county is performing well in other categories. She’s optimistic the county will be ready for the next phase in time.

“In a few days, we’ll have a much better view,” she said.

Meanwhile, commissioners Ron Wesen and Ken Dahlstedt talked about the need for balance.

Wesen said it makes sense that infections would increase as more county residents end their isolation, and there’s a balance to be struck between cautiously staying at home and risking infection by returning to work.

“You can’t just stay locked up for the next six months,” he said.

The state’s plans to slowly reopen aren’t designed to eliminate new cases of COVID-19, but to keep new cases from overwhelming hospitals. The county’s three hospitals all have capacity for patients, Wesen said.

He said individuals have to decide for themselves whether they feel safe going to a restaurant or store, and they have to accept the consequences.

“It comes back to personal responsibility,” Wesen said.

Commissioner Ken Dahlstedt said the county can balance the risk of infection and social distancing.

Continued isolation would have its own detrimental effects on residents’ mental health, he said, adding there has been an increase in reports of drug overdoses, domestic abuse incidents and child abuse during the pandemic.

Employment also has impacts on health, and prolonging business restrictions affects the health of the business owners, employees and their families, Dahlstedt said.

“It’s not just COVID,” he said. “The (county’s) responsibility is the health of the whole community.”

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

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