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The Kittitas County Board of Commissioners voiced its united opposition in response to Governor Jay Inslee’s latest COVID-19 restrictions announced Sunday.

In a Monday press release, the commissioners were specifically critical of the restrictions’ failure to recognize the highly variable rates of COVID-19 spread throughout the state and the role of local health authorities to best determine appropriate response.

“Kittitas County has worked hard to keep our infection rate low,” Commissioner Brett Wachsmith said in the release. “Our local health department and public health officer have diligently partnered with our schools, businesses, cities and Central Washington University to respond quickly to outbreaks and keep infection isolated to avoid community spread. I am extremely disappointed in the actions taken by the state that ignore the work that has been accomplished. To make a sweeping decision at the state level ignores the local response measures we have in place as well as the secondary impacts COVID-19 has placed on our residents.”

In the release, the commissioners also questioned the effectiveness of limiting and closing businesses that have not been identified as a source of community spread.

“Throughout this pandemic, the focus has been on analyzing data to make the best decisions,” Commissioner Laura Osiadacz said in the release. “It is extremely disappointing to see businesses that have worked hard to be a part of the solution simply assumed to be the source of the problem and wrongly penalized. We have not seen the local hospital impacts of COVID-19 that have been predicted, but we have certainly seen the effects of these orders and their negative impact on the collective mental health of our population.”

While commissioners made clear in the release that they were unanimously critical of the latest state restrictions, they noted that they were also unified in their support of local public health authorities to appropriately respond.

“It took some time, but through this our health department, public health officer, and this board came to an understanding that our most critical issues were protecting public health while keeping schools and businesses open,” Commissioner Cory Wright said in the release. “Because of this, we have the most students per capita by county statewide in school right now under hybrid models, and it is because of the united goals of our entire county government that this is happening. These new orders issued by the governor only set back the collective local work we have done and firmly demonstrate that locally controlled response is the best response.”

The release continued to say that as of Monday morning, the Board of County Commissioners were still examining legal options in conjunction with the Kittitas County Prosecutor’s Office. While not identifying any specific course of action, commissioners expressed their intent in the release to potentially move forward with litigation once the prosecutor’s office had the opportunity to collect local health data and present potential options.

In the meantime, commissioners said in the release that they remained firm in their resolve to support affected local employers and schools by investing approximately $1.75 million of remaining federal CARES Act dollars in supplementary funding.

“We still have to approve a final proposal, but we are committed to getting money to those areas that have been most affected,” Commissioner Wachsmith said in the release. “Our businesses are not just storefronts, they represent working families employed throughout Kittitas County. Making sure paychecks continue arriving and keeping our kids in school during this time is the best way to minimize the secondary effects of COVID. By putting federal money to work in the most direct way possible, we can lessen the overall impact of COVID on local families.”

PUBLIC HEALTH SUPPORT

Kittitas County Public Health Department Public Information Officer Kasey Knutson said the department will continue to support businesses in adjusting to the regulations if needed, saying that the mission of the department and the county’s Incident Management Team has remained the same throughout the pandemic.

“That’s what the Incident Management Team is in place for,” she said. “We’re going to help people regardless, responding to Kittitas County’s needs.”

Knutson said the restrictions on some businesses like grocery stores are more extreme than the previous set of restrictions sent down by the state, and although none of them have reached out to the department for assistance, she said they will stand by as the county adjusts to the new limitations.

“If they’re feeling like they need assistance with what Gov. Inslee has just put into place, we’ll do what we can to help,” she said.

Knutson pointed out that the department and Incident Management team has never served as an enforcing agency when it comes to the state mask mandate and how they apply to businesses, saying that task has always been assigned to the Washington State Department of Labor and Industry.

“I don’t know what the state will plan to do now that they’ve implemented the restrictions,” she said.

Although public health can assist with businesses working to adhere to the new restrictions, Knutson said all questions about the restrictions themselves must be directed towards the state, and that public health will continue to provide resources for people who are experiencing issues such as mental health in the midst of the pandemic. She also pointed out that the restrictions do not currently apply to the local school system, saying the department has already fielded multiple questions related to that component. As the situation remains fluid, she said the department will continue to move forward with assisting the community in the fullest capacity possible.

“Our local response is efficient and will continue to be efficient,” she said. “We’re going to continue working with our partners.”

Kittitas County Incident Commander Darren Higashiyama supported Knutson’s remarks, saying the Incident Management Team will continue to provide technical assistance in regards for safety when it comes to local businesses struggling to adapt to the new restrictions.

“Our team tries to think outside the box,” he said. “We’re working closely with the Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce, making sure they get the stuff they need to try and keep businesses afloat. Our mission hasn’t changed.”

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