On Friday, May 15th the County Council and County Health Board held a public hearing considering requesting a variance from the Governor moving SJ County from phase 1 to phase 2. (Here is a link to the phases as ordered by the Governor). There have been many arguments for and against. Dr. Frank James, our County Health Officer, stated that we are not yet ready to move forward. He cited the need to improve testing capacity and secure commitments from regional hospitals to provide medical support for island residents.
A primary concern is the issue of visitors. Last weekend Orcas saw a surge of vacationers drawn to the island to celebrate Mother’s Day and enjoy the beautiful weather. While non-essential travel is not allowed until phase 3, clearly this rule is not being enforced. Sheriff Krebs stated that the department has fielded many calls and only two have been confirmed violations. He explained that enforcement is limited to telephone calls, which often occur after the stay is over, so it is not entirely clear how useful that process is. Krebs was also clear that his department is stretched thin due to increased call volume due to domestic violence and mental health issues among others. No matter what phase we move into, there needs to be greater capacity to enforce the public health protocols.
There is no doubt that we are in the midst of the greatest crisis our local economy has faced. Our dependence on tourism puts us in a place of great vulnerability when facing this pandemic. Ensuring we gear back up in a thoughtful and careful manner is critical to long term success. In the meanwhile, if you can support local business by ordering meals, purchasing gift cards,(www.orcasstrong.com) and making donations (www.oicf.us), please do so, as every penny counts. If we all do what we can, we can help each other through.