The Spokane City Council threw its weight behind the push to reopen the region’s economy on Monday.
In a nonbinding resolution, the council unanimously endorsed Gov. Jay Inslee’s phased Safe Start Washington plan, but declared Spokane’s workers are “ready to get back to work.”
It also voiced support for Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz, who recommended Spokane County be considered for a variance from Phase 1 of Inslee’s plan last week, and suggested he work “closely with the Secretary (of Health) to quickly develop published criteria for granting such a variance for a community the size of Spokane.”
In adopting the resolution, drafted by Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs, the council became the latest local body to ask Inslee to allow Spokane to jump from Phase 1 in the reopening plan into Phase 2 ahead of schedule.
At a news conference Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee said state officials were putting the “finishing touches” on criteria for counties with more than 75,000 people to move to Phase 2 before the rest of the state.
“We hope to have them… in the next couple of days,” Inslee said in response to a question about when Spokane and some other large counties might be able to see the criteria.
On Monday evening, Inslee’s office announced another news conference for 11 a.m. Tuesday, “to talk about the plan for additional county variances.”
The argument made by a chorus of local officials, including Lutz, is centered on Spokane’s relatively low number of new daily COVID-19 cases and continued capacity in local hospitals.
Last week, Lutz, the Spokane Regional Health District’s Board of Health and the Spokane County Board of Commissioners all endorsed a request of Inslee to set Spokane into Phase 2, which would allow more businesses to open – albeit with restrictions.
The council’s resolution is not an official part of any variance process laid out by the governor – who has yet to establish criteria for counties like Spokane to apply for one – but adds to the region’s calls to reopen.
Councilman Michael Cathcart criticized state leaders Monday for failing to set transparent benchmarks for counties like Spokane.
“I think we can safely and responsibly move forward,” Cathcart said.
In its resolution, the council also laid out a list of priorities as restrictions are lifted on Spokane that Beggs said will help it “stay open.”
Beggs said Monday that the resolution is calling for a variance “under a public health lens.”
The council insisted that county residents have adequate access to testing and that officials assemble a robust team of contact tracers to help limit the spread of the virus, a policy outlined by public health officials last week.
The council also called for public and private child care centers to reopen if they are not already, and that they be reimbursed for increased costs due to additional cleaning requirements, hazard pay for employees and “robust” sick leave policies.
The resolution includes two proposals already publicly aired by Beggs aimed at helping businesses through the recovery. The resolution suggests that the county develop a central procurement system for personal protective equipment, as well as hire public health experts to help businesses comply with new safety standards.
Spokane is at risk of seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases, the resolution warns, because it is a “transportation and commercial hub for the Inland Northwest.”
The resolution passed unanimously aside from Councilwoman Kate Burke, who abstained from voting.
Reporter Jim Camden contrinbuted to this report.
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