OLYMPIA, WA — Whitman County got a head-start on reopening Friday, becoming the ninth Washington county to move into the second phase of the Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start plan.

To be eligible for the expedited reopening schedule, counties must have a population under 75,000 and no confirmed coronavirus cases in the last three weeks.

Approximately 50,000 people live in the southeast Washington county, and lab tests have confirmed just 16 cases there since the public health crisis began. Eight other counties, including Stevens, Garfield, and Skamania, received approvals from the Secretary of Health earlier this month. An application form Kittitas County remains under review. Jefferson and Grays Harbor counties have not applied.

Before counties are approved for a “variance” under the governor’s order, they first must provide the state with plans to meet five standards:

  • Testing must be available to anyone in the county with symptoms
  • Adequate staffing for case investigations and contact tracing
  • Available housing for those who require isolation or quarantine
  • Case management services for people in isolation or quarantine
  • The ability to respond quickly to an outbreak in a congregate setting

Phase 2 restores all outdoor recreation for small groups, including those with fewer than five people from outside the household. The second phase also allows for small gatherings and limited non-essential travel. Restaurants can reopen at 50 percent capacity, along with hair salons, barbers, and some in-store retail.

Each type of business must receive specific health and safety guidance from the governor’s office before it can reopen. So far, Inslee has released phase 2 rules for restaurants, retail, manufacturing, office settings, outdoor recreation, and “personal services,” like salons or tattoo parlors.

The rest of the state is tentatively expected to enter phase 2 by June 1, but Inslee said Thursday that date is not firm, and could be changed if public health guidance deems that necessary.