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.
Many counties are asking for permission to lift restrictions on commerce and other activities. For example, on Tuesday, June 9th, the Benton County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously, three to zero, to apply for Phase II status of Governor Inslee’s “Safe Start” program.
On Wednesday, June 10th, the Franklin County Board of Commissioners voted 2–1 to also apply for Phase II status – Commissioner Clint Didier voted against the application, calling on businesses to defy the law and fully open.
On Thursday, June 11th, Cowlitz County, in southwest Washington, decided to postpone an application to advance to Phase III status.
Also on June 11th, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, headed by Chris Reykdal, released a proposal that calls for face to face schedules for most students at the start of the 2020–20201 school year.
Developed in conjunction with the state Department of Health, the proposal envisions that all students and staff will need to wear masks, desks will have to be a minimum of six feet apart, gymnasiums may become classrooms as necessary, students and staff will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms before entering school buildings, and plans will have to be in place to quickly switch to remote learning if an outbreak occurs at a given school.
The Washington Education Association teachers union and education advocacy groups are concerned that the plans were made without the input of families.
On Friday, June 12th, the Federal Department of Justice filed a “Statement of Interest” in support of a lawsuit by the Harborview Fellowship church of Gig Harbor, which was initially filed June 1st.
The Justice Department report states that Governor Inslee’s restrictions regarding indoor church services are stricter than those for “comparable secular businesses,” and potentially in violation of a recent federal Supreme Court ruling on May 29th, South Bay United Pentacostal Church v. Newsom.
In an apparent swipe at recent events in Seattle, the statement of interest noted that “Governor Inslee has placed no limit on total numbers for outdoor protests, only requesting that participants ‘be safe for themselves and the people around them” by “wearing a mask and…distancing as much as you can.’”
Yesterday, the Washington State Department of Health released a statement and report regarding recent COVID-19 transmission increases in multiple counties, of which Benton, Franklin, Spokane and Yakima counties are of gravest concern; especially that, on a per capita basis, these counties are presently at a rate comparable to that of King County in March of 2020.
Also yesterday, Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Cornell, a town southwest of Spokane, announced that it would be restricting movement in its medium-security unit after over a hundred officers and inmates tested positive for COVID-19.
Skamania, Asotin and Whitman counties have been upgraded to Phase 3 status of Governor Inslee’s “Safe Start” program. Chelan and Douglas counties have been upgraded to a modified Phase 1 status.
On Thursday, June 11th, Governor Kate Brown, due to one hundred and seventy-eight confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 within the previous twenty-four hours as of Noon that day, declared a “pause” on all reopening efforts within the state. Three weeks ago, the seven day rolling average of new daily cases was just under thirty-two. It’s presently over one hundred.
The pause came just before Oregon’s most populous county, Multinomah, was about to start Phase I of their reopening process, and is in response in part due to a spike in cases at food processing facilities.
On the same day, the Oregon Department of Education released a framework that will place the responsibility on individual schools as to whether they will teach on-site, online, or through some combination of the two approaches.
Any onsite plans must draft a day to day operations plan, health protocol and response plan in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.
Those schools that provide solely online learning must explain why they won’t provide a combination of onsite and online learning.
All students and staff must be screened for COVID-19 symptoms when they board a bus or enter school buildings. Classroom capacity must assume a minimum of thirty-five square feet per student. All staff who regularly interact within six feet of students must wear masks or some other form of face covering.
On Friday, June 12th, the Oregon Supreme Court found in favor of Governor Kate Brown and ordered Baker County Circuit Court Judge Matthew Shirtcliff to vacate his preliminary injunction of May 18th, which declared Governor Brown’s emergency actions, depending on which section, invalid or expired.
The Court reasoned:
In cases involving competing private interests, consideration of the ‘public interest’ factor may play little or no role.
In this case, it predominates.
The Governor is defending not her personal interests, but her considered understanding of the public interest. Her executive orders, as plaintiffs acknowledge, are directed at protecting the public.
As the Governor of Oregon, she is uniquely situated, and duty-bound, to protect the public in emergency situations and to determine, in such emergencies, where the public interest lies.
The challenged orders were issued in performance of those duties, based on consideration of the range of dangers that different Oregonians may face from COVID-19, the scientific evidence that is available to her regarding how best to contain the disease, and the strong interests of Oregonians in maintaining their religious practices and businesses but also in protecting themselves and their loved ones.
On the same day, Precision Castparts Corporation made public the largest to date manufacturing layoffs as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, with seven hundred and seventeen employees losing their jobs.
On Thursday, June 11th, Idaho entered Stage IV, its final stage, of the Idaho Rebound Plan. Republican Governor Brad Little made a point of emphasizing how it almost didn’t happen, however.
“I want to stress something very important, we almost did not make it to Stage IV this week…Despite our incredible progress, there are some in Idaho who are not practicing measures to keep themselves and others safe.”
Individual responsibility is being promoted by Little’s administration as the primary means of preventing and restricting transmission of COVID-19. “The most effective way to mitigate the spread of the virus is through our personal actions…” People are encouraged to take the One Idaho pledge as part of the process.
Broad statewide school re-opening procedures have been in place since May 4th, with some schools already open, but other districts and entities are still determining specifics regarding next steps for the fall, and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Sheri Ybarra intends to provide a set of guidelines and recommendations specific to opening later this year, like Washington and Oregon are doing.
The province has been considering how to open their schools for autumn classes since May. Schools were opened to optional, part-time, in-class instruction on June 1st. As of June 7th, 30% of students were taking in-class instruction.
A group of Black and Indigenous organizers throughout the province have started the Black in British Columbia Community Support Fund for COVID-19, and are requesting that the provincial government begin collecting race-based data for COVID-19 cases and deaths.
Washington state has had 26,573 cases and 1,221 attributable deaths.
462,602 people have been tested.
Oregon has had 5,535 cases and 174 attributable deaths.
166,189 people have been tested.
Idaho has had 3,399 cases and 87 attributable deaths.
62,658 people have been tested.
British Columbia has had 2,709 cases and 168 attributable deaths.
165,256 people have been tested.