COVID-19 County Variance Application Process

A phased approach to reopening 

Every part of the state is experiencing COVID-19 differently. The governor’s county-by-county Safe Start approach details how counties can apply to the state Department of Health with a plan to reopen additional sectors of public life if they meet eligibility requirements. 

The secretary of health may approve a county moving in whole to the next phase, or may only approve certain activities in the next phase. Businesses can only reopen after the governor’s office provides industry-specific guidance and the business is able to comply with all health and safety requirements.

Learn more about the business, recreational and spiritual activities allowed for each phase and guidance for safe reopening.

Current Safe Start status (last updated May 28, 2020)

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A total of 26 counties have now been approved to move to Phase 2: Adams, Asotin, Clallam, Columbia, Cowlitz, Ferry, Garfield, Grant, Grays Harbor, Island, Jefferson, Kitsap, Kittitas, Lewis, Lincoln, Mason, Pacific, Pend Oreille, San Juan, Skamania, Spokane, Stevens, Thurston, Wahkiakum, Walla Walla, and Whitman. Klickitat County remains eligible to apply for a variance to move to Phase 2. The application from Clark County remains on pause due to an outbreak investigation.

A total of 26 counties have now been approved to move to Phase 2: Adams, Asotin, Clallam, Columbia, Cowlitz, Ferry, Garfield, Grant, Grays Harbor, Island, Jefferson, Kitsap, Kittitas, Lewis, Lincoln, Mason, Pacific, Pend Oreille, San Juan, Skamania, Spokane, Stevens, Thurston, Wahkiakum, Walla Walla, and Whitman.

Klickitat County remains eligible to apply for a variance to move to Phase 2. The application from Clark County remains on pause due to an outbreak investigation.

What are the eligibility criteria for a county to apply to move into a new phase? 

These are some of the metrics the Secretary of Health will evaluate in addition to other information provided by counties.

  • COVID-19 Activity: The target for new cases will be 25 or fewer per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period. Hospitalizations for COVID must be flat or decreasing.
  • Health Care System Readiness: The available hospital beds in a given jurisdiction would preferably be at less than 80% occupancy.
  • Testing: Counties need to show they have adequate testing capacity, 50 times as many people per day as they have confirmed new cases per day – which equates to positive test results under 2%. They also need to show rapid turnaround time for test results, ensuring that we can work effectively to contain the virus.
  • Contact Tracing: The target is to contact 90% of cases by phone or in person within 24 hours of receipt of a positive lab test result. There is a target of reaching all that person’s contacts within 48 hours of a positive test result.
  • Protect The Vulnerable: The target number of outbreaks reported by week – defined as 2 or more non-household cases where transmission occurred at work, in congregate living, or institutional setting -  is zero for counties under 75,000, and no higher than three for our largest counties.

What does the application process involve:

Starting June 1, counties that wish to apply to the next phase must:

  • Submit a signed application from the County Executive. If a county does not have a County Executive, the County Council/Commission must approve the submittal.
  • The Secretary of Health will evaluate the county’s application based on how their data compare to the targets outline in the Safe Start plan, as well as the information provided by the county about their ability to respond to situations such as outbreaks, increased deaths and other COVID-19 activity.
  • The final decision on whether a county is ready to implement a variance program is made by the Secretary of Health. The secretary may approve a county moving in whole to the next phase, or may only approve certain activities in the next phase.

The county’s application must include the following information:

  • Plans to make COVID-19 testing available and accessible to everyone in the county with symptoms
  • Number of tests performed per week over the past 3 weeks
  • Number of people trained and ready to perform case investigations and contact tracing
  • Plans to house people in isolation or quarantine who do not have a home or wish to isolate or quarantine themselves outside of their home
  • Plans to provide case management services to cases and contacts in isolation and quarantine
  • Plans to rapidly respond to outbreaks in congregate settings

What does the approval process look like? Can an approval be revoked if circumstances change in the county?

The Department of Health will review all variance requests based on the criteria outlined in the application process. County variance applications will be approved or denied by the Secretary of Health. The secretary can either approve the plan as submitted, approve with modifications, or deny the application. A variance may be revoked if circumstances change within the jurisdiction, such as a significant outbreak, no or minimal access to COVID-19 testing, no surge capacity in area hospitals, inadequate PPE supplies, or inadequate case and contact investigations.