It’s time for another installment of of our special series COVID-19 Update, bringing you the latest developments on the novel coronavirus outbreak that public health authorities here and across the country are working to mitigate.
On Friday, May 29th, Governor Jay Inslee announced an expansion of the state’s reopening program, dubbed “Safe Start,” along with the cessation of the principal stay home, stay healthy order that was issued back in March (although a number of related proclamations were extended to June 17th).
As of Monday, June 1st, any county not in Phase I may apply to the state Secretary of Health to move to the next phase of the four-step plan beyond which they are currently set. Any county presently in Phase I would have to first apply for a “modified” Phase I status, which allows some Phase II activities, dependent on the status of the applying county.
At present, twenty-six counties in Washington state are at Phase II status.
Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers will apply to move directly into Phase II, in spite of Snohomish County’s poor testing and contact tracing numbers and excessive number of new daily cases, making it less likely to qualify for Phase II than most other counties in the state.
Also announced by the Governor were new statewide guidelines regarding the use of facemasks in the workplace, effective June 8th.
Dr. Ming Lin, a doctor fired in late March from St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham for criticizing the facility’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, filed a lawsuit on Thursday, May 28th, against his former employer.
The suit wrongful termination, breach of contract, discrimination, defamation and infliction of emotional stress.
On Tuesday, May 26th, Baker County Circuit Court judge Matthew Shirtcliff, in response to the Oregon state Supreme Court requesting further explanation as to his ruling that Governor Kate Brown’s stay at home order was no longer valid, or to allow for arguments by both sides to take place as part of a larger process, refused to vacate his May 18th decision in a three sentence response.
The Oregon Department of Justice and the group of churches that are part of the request to vacate the stay at home order will instead argue their case before the state Supreme Court, which stayed Judge Shirtcliff’s decision on May 18th.
The state Department of Justice filed a brief with the Supreme Court on Thursday, May 28th, which focuses on legislative testimony from 2003, where the state’s then public health officer described the public health emergency bill used as part of the stay at home order was an “additional” tool to compliment, rather than replace, separate emergency powers.
On Thursday, May 28th, Washington County, immediately southwest of the Portland metropolitan area, was approved to move toward Phase 1 of the Reopening Oregon plan. This leaves Multnomah County, which includes Portland, as the only state not yet qualified for Phase 1 status. Washington County was where the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in Oregon on February 28th.
On Friday, May 31st, Governor Kate Brown fired state Employment Department director Kay Erickson as a result of delays in the processing of applications for unemployment and in the delivery of unemployment benefits to those who had lost their jobs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2009, the federal government gave the state more than $85 million to update the department’s IT infrastructure, but most of that money is in a state trust fund and little has been done by the department to complete its task.
On May 22nd, fifty employees at Rite Stuff Foods, a potato processor in Jerome, and forty-five employees at Ida-Beef, a slaughterhouse in Burley, tested positive for COVID-19. All employees were tested at Rite Stuff in response, while only symptomatic employees at Ida-Beef were tested at Minidoka Memorial Hospital.
The Ida-Beef facility has been closed until at least June 1st due to a “staffing shortage.” Both cases were confirmed by the Idaho South Central Public Health District on Tuesday, May 26th.
Almost all of the employees affected identify as Latino or Hispanic.
On May 28th, Governor Brad Little decided to initiate Phase III of his state reopening plan, Idaho Rebounds, which started on Saturday, May 30th.
Bars and movie theaters will be allowed to open.
When asked about the latter, Governor Little replied “I would much rather start something a little earlier than have to delay things to a later point in time.”
That same day, by a 2–1 vote, the Bonner County board of Commissioners passed a proclamation opposing Phase II of the Idaho Rebounds reopening plan, stating that it is too broad in scope and too ambiguous, thus unconstitutional.
In their conclusion, they state that “this order’s overutilization-prevention and transmission-prevention objectives are unconstitutional and replicate methods used in command-and-control societies such as China.”
On Saturday, May 29th, the Idaho Statesman newspaper sent a letter to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, threatening to sue the department if records regarding coronavirus outbreaks in nursing home and long term care facilities aren’t made available. The department refused a public records request made by the Statesman on May 21st. Nevertheless, the Statesman believes it has confirmed the names of fourteen facilities that have had COVID-19 outbreaks, and that as many as twenty-two facilities have had outbreaks.
Washington state has had 22,471 cases and 1,126 attributable deaths.
360,899 people have been tested.
Oregon has had 4,253 cases and 153 attributable deaths.
129,201 people have been tested.
Idaho has had 2,839 cases and 82 attributable deaths.
46,697 people have been tested.
British Columbia has had 2,562 cases and 164 attributable deaths.
141,392 people have been tested.