WA Phased Regions Map - Roadmap to Recovery plan

OKANOGAN COUNTY – Governor Jay Inslee’s “Roadmap to Recovery” phased opening plan, which is somewhat simplified from his previous 2020 phased opening plan, is only a few weeks old, but is already awash in significant problems and is being heavily criticized by both sides of the political aisle.

When the Inslee “lockdown extension” plan was unveiled after the first week of January, after some delays, there were many concerns with it. We have now seen a number of those concerns manifest as critical problems which should have been addressed earlier.

A major concern was that the regional scheme had the effect of undermining the authority and independence of County governments. It removed local control in favor of a more remote, and more unaccountable, level of government, and undermines the local community's trust and buy-in when it comes to public health matters.

Okanogan County Community Health Director Lauri Jones said, at an Economic Alliance small-business roundtable earlier this month, that county Public Health officials are disappointed that the state’s Department of Health didn’t consult them before implementing the new roadmap plan. Such a statement from these officials appears quite disingenuous though, because we have seen this exact same behavior from the Governor for nearly the entirety of the last year. This new scheme is just par for the course. The governor does not listen to local officials advice or feedback, he will not accept ideas from the minority party, and he ignores the concerns of business and community groups. Sufficient criticism and outcry does seem to work, to some extent, forcing him to announce some moderation of his more draconian measures which were arbitrarily implemented.

The regional scheme also had the effect of grouping lesser populated and rural counties with a county that has large prison populations, potentially introducing significant skew to their data and affecting their reopening qualification. Relying on data with such problems to keep businesses restricted makes no sense. As one Grays Harbor concerned business owner succinctly stated, “Inmates are not dining or shopping at our local businesses.”

Upon Inslee’s plan unveiling, the Washington Hospitality Association CEO Anthony Anton quickly fired back at him, saying, "Today’s announcement is not a roadmap to recovery. It is a roadmap to a near-complete collapse of main street neighborhood restaurants and hospitality businesses.” It's a dire vision of the future to be sure, but as more and more small businesses close permanently after running out of steam constantly trying to survive, it's one that we appear to be headed for.

Even those in his own party are quickly tiring of the governor’s decrees, to whit, three Democrat state legislators from the Olympic Peninsula recently issued a public statement quite critical of Inslee’s deeply-flawed reopening scheme.

“Gov. Inslee’s recent change to the Roadmap to Recovery has left Clallam and Jefferson counties at a standstill for no good reason. This new plan relies on inconsistent metrics and an overly broad, regional approach for decision-making that does not reward the citizens and businesses in Clallam and Jefferson who have faithfully complied with the governor’s orders.”

The group, composed of Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), Rep. Steve Tharinger (D-Port Townsend) and Rep. Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles), went on to say, “This regional approach takes away local input and decisions and ignores local health officer’s science-based knowledge. Transmission and case-rate metrics in Clallam and Jefferson counties prove we have worked well to control the COVID-19 pandemic and have a firm grasp on this situation. However, when grouped with widely dissimilar counties in an arbitrarily drawn region, our success is ignored.”

“With these latest moves, however, we have lost faith that the governor is on a course to safely open Washington and beat COVID-19. He is reopening hot-spot counties based on poorly designed metrics that leave low-rate counties closed. This plan’s senseless punishment of counties with low COVID-19 rates leaves us no choice but to speak out in opposition.”

“This is not a position we take lightly. But it is clear that the governor’s plan exhibits a disastrous disconnect with the realities of our communities and, as their elected representatives, we must demand a reopening plan that is fair and sound. The current plan is neither.”

Unfortunately for everyone living in Washington state, the arbitrary regional, and less accountable, structure does not seem to be going away soon. Indeed, at the request of Governor Inslee, bills are currently in the legislature to create comprehensive public health districts, grouped similarly to this regional phased opening plan, forcing counties to join together in regional public health districts. The bills are SB 5173 and companion bill HB 1152.

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