Coronavirus: Kittitas County variance application on hold; cases increase

VIDEO: Kittitas County variance application on hold

KITTITAS COUNTY, Wash. — On May 8, Gov. Jay Inslee approved five counties to move into the next phase of his four-phase plan to reopen Washington state.

Phase 1 began May 5, and he said during a news conference that the state already had applications from several smaller counties to go to Phase 2.

Washington State Secretary of Health John Wiesman approved variances for Columbia, Garfield, Lincoln, Ferry and Pend Oreille counties.

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Kittitas County was slated to be the sixth county, but officials there said a new case of COVID-19 detected after weeks of zero growth has put the plan on hold.

More information is expected on Monday regarding the status of that application. The county plans to provide daily updates on infection rates.

The governor explained that the variances would reveal if the planned phases are working.

"We started with the smaller counties because we want to have good experience with them to give us confidence to move out to additional counties," Inslee said.

"After three weeks of no positive cases, Kittitas County recently had a 16th confirmed case of COVID-19," Kasey Knutson said on May 8. Knutson is with the Kittitas County Public Health Department.

The patient, currently in stable condition, works at Twin City Foods, Inc. Health officials are working closely with the business, which employs more than 200 people, according to Knutson.

Testing of all employees was organized the same day as the governor's press conference. "The corporation had a quality safety plan in place, immediately closed the facility upon notification of exposure, and has prioritized the health and safety of employees," officials said.

The Kittitas Count Incident Management Team reported May 10 that the mass testing revealed 34 additional COVID-19 cases, which is more than 20% of Twin City Foods' workforce.

Because of the cluster, officials said Twin City Foods would close for an additional 10 days as IMT works to make sure people can safely self-isolate at home.

“Our application for variance outlined exactly how we would respond to a situation like this, so that’s what we’re doing today,” said Tristen Lamb, the county’s public health director. “We have the opportunity to show the state that our community and our public health system can respond immediately to identify, isolate, and suppress a COVID-19 outbreak in our county. This only makes our application stronger.”