Yakima County commissioners have asked Gov. Jay Inslee to accept plans to allow more local businesses to open under specific operating procedures.
Commissioners made the request Tuesday in a letter to the governor’s office also signed by commissioners from 18 other counties.
The letter, dated May 12, comes weeks after Commissioner Vicki Baker and Yakima Mayor Patricia Byers began working with local businesses on establishing plans aiming to allow them to operate safely while employing social distancing rules.
The letter describes a devastated local economy and asks the governor to allow more local control over the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We implore you to allow us to take local control with the help and support that the state can give. COVID-19 is real and it is serious, but it affects every county differently. We strongly hope you will work with us and allow us to create plans within our individual counties that address our individual county needs,” the letter said.
The governor’s office is willing to review business plans, said spokesman Mike Faulk.
“We’re not going to turn people away if they have ideas to share,” he said. “But people also should know that we have plans that we are sharing, and we’ll take feedback on those as well.”
The governor’s office has been working with labor groups, businesses and other interested parties around the clock in developing such plans that will allow for a safe reopening, Faulk said.
“So we’re working here in the governor’s office on detailed plans and putting them out as soon as they are finalized, and we’re engaging with counties across the state,” he said.
Yakima County continues to see an increasing number novel coronavirus infections and may not be ready for Phase 2 as early as other counties.
“I’m not sure what plan local officials would have there in the face of these local numbers continuing to go up,” Faulk said.
On Thursday, the number of confirmed cases countywide increased by 65 to 2,186, and deaths increased by four for a total of 73.
Nonetheless, Yakima County Commission Chairman Norm Childress said the closures and phased-in opening plans don’t always make sense.
“This phase-in approach — I guess it’s been somewhat hard for us to follow the logic on it,” he said. “If you were working on a house, you couldn’t do it. If you were working on a government project, you could.”
County officials previously said plans were submitted from businesses in the following industries: fitness, boutique retail, catering, wine industry, museums, furniture retail, restaurant, beauty, performing arts and photography.
Childress emphasized that commissioners do not have the authority to simply allow businesses to resume full operation, hence the letter to Inslee.
If plans are approved and businesses are allowed to open, operators must stick to the guidelines, he said.
“I know everyone is getting at the end of their rope, they’re frustrated, and we understand that,” Childress said. “People are going to have to really take this seriously and follow the guidelines — we’re going to support that.”
The other counties that joined the letter were Grant, Lewis, Douglas, Chelan, Walla Walla, Benton, Cowlitz, Franklin, Pacific, Lincoln, Kittitas, Wahkiakum, Stevens, Asotin, Grays Harbor, Klickitat, Skamania and Ferry, commissioners said.