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As many of you know, Kittitas County is waiting for a variance to move forward to Phase 2 under Gov. Inslee’s “Safe Start” Plan. Our county was the first in the state to submit the application for variance until an outbreak at a local business placed our application on hold. Since then, residents and businesses alike have voiced their frustrations with us over this stalled progress. We share these concerns and believe our county is ready to make the jump to Phase 2 based on the rapid response by our Public Health department.

Last week, we authored and sent a letter (See article in May 15 Daily Record) signed by a broad cross-section of community stakeholders to Governor Inslee and Secretary of Health John Wiesman regarding Kittitas County’s ability to respond to a COVID-19 outbreak. From health care to first responders to governments to non-profit assistance organizations, our group believed this county’s efforts to comply, and fast action to contain, deserved another look. Additionally, we were concerned that any positive progress could again be erased at the end of this pause period should more infections occur. The group sent the letter last Friday and were informed via e-mail on Sunday that Kittitas County would need to wait for another progress report on May 26.

This is deeply disappointing. Didn’t we “flatten the curve” as we were asked? Hasn’t this been the reason all along for closing businesses, schools, and directing folks to stay home?

Across the board, citizens and businesses of Kittitas County worked diligently to minimize the spread and not flood our health care facilities. KVH’s work to mobilize and ready their facilities to prepare for the staggering projections was remarkable but came at great cost. Our local public hospital has lost over $4 million just in the last two months. With no ability to perform “elective” surgeries — procedures such as joint replacements that provide life-changing relief for patients — KVH and other rural hospitals around the state are hemorrhaging money while over two-thirds of their beds are empty.

Somewhere along the way, ensuring doctors didn’t have to make judgment calls over who got a ventilator in overcrowded hospitals transformed into something completely different. The goalposts continue to move, but nobody seems to know what is required to score the needed points. Meanwhile, the negative effects of these orders on our county’s residents multiply exponentially. Businesses stay closed, but bills continue to mount while promised state and federal relief hasn’t materialized. Yet, all of this occurs as our county’s usual summer recreation season filled with thousands of visitors has begun. How are we supposed to not have new cases when so many non-residents continue to want to come to enjoy our recreational areas? Businesses are not being treated on a level playing field, and this needs to end.

Two weeks ago, your county commissioners joined with commissioners from nineteen other counties to ask the governor to cede health order authority to local control. We believe rural counties are much different than the urban centers surrounding Puget Sound, and decisions on how to control the spread of COVID-19 are best left to those who understand their local communities. Following the state’s ambiguous response to our variance application, our resolve has only strengthened. We will continue to use the legal means available to fight on behalf of our residents and businesses to shift decision-making to local officials who understand local effects and are the best suited to safely move our community forward.

In the meantime, we will continue to use resources at hand to make positive changes here in Kittitas County. Last week the board agreed to direct $300,000 of federal CARES Act funding for grants to county businesses to be administered through the Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce. This has will be done through a collaborative county-wide approach, with many people at the table helping make the decisions. While minimal compared to state and federal funding, we hope that it will be a small bridge to those promised funds until our businesses can be open again.

We know our county’s greatest strength lies in our citizens’ ability to support each other in the worst of times. As this period continues to grow longer, that strength will be truly tested. If Kittitas County is to weather this storm successfully, we must do so by staying true to our heritage of empowering individuals to succeed for the collective good of all. We are committed to getting our economy moving again while keeping our citizens safe. We have shown we can do it. Now it’s time for our state government to let us. Thank you for showing daily the meaning of “Kittitas Strong.”

Cory Wright, Laura Osiadacz and Brett Wachsmith are Kittitas County commissioners

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