Inslee Expands County Variance Criteria, Small Business Grants

Gov. Jay Inslee Tuesday announced new criteria for additional counties to apply for variances to move to Phase 2 of the state’s Safe Start recovery plan.

Under the plan, smaller counties can apply for a variance from the order which would allow them to open even more businesses than allowed statewide. Counties are now eligible to apply if they have less than 10 new cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day span.

Under the new criteria, 10 additional counties will be eligible to apply for a variance. They are:

  • Adams
  • Clark
  • Clallam
  • Island
  • Kitsap
  • Lewis
  • Mason – Mason County officials are expected to approve their 2nd application Friday morning.
  • Thurston
  • San Juan
  • Spokane

The new criteria are similar to the guidance released by the CDC for reopening regions nationwide. Increasing the counties eligible for variance will allow for increased economic activity around the state while also prioritizing the health and safety of workers and customers to limit the spread of COVID-19.

As of Monday, 10 counties have already been approved to move into Phase 2. Twenty-two counties in the state are eligible in total. Combined, these counties represent 30% of the state.

“All of this means we are making progress. It does not mean we have stopped this highly contagious virus. Cautious, well-informed relaxation of COVID-19 interventions will be critical. We want to get this right so we do not have to go through it again.” Inslee said.

“We recognize that this is a high bar, but it is necessary for our ability to have a safe start to reopening the economy and protecting the public’s health,” Secretary of Health John Wiesman said.

To apply, local public health officials must submit a signed recommendation to be approved by the local board of health. Hospitals must have proper surge capacity and PPE and counties must have ample testing sites, isolation and quarantine facilities, and a contact tracing plan.

The state will continue to look at the data and make adjustments accordingly. Decisions on how and when to allow a county granted Phase 2 variance to move to Phase 3 have not been made. This will be determined in the next two to three weeks in accordance to future data.

Working Washington Small Business Grants

The governor was also joined by Department of Commerce Director Lisa Brown and small business owner Rob Owen from Newport to announce the first wave of grants from the Working Washington Small Business Grant Program.

Earlier this year, $10 million in strategic reserve funds was allocated to assist small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to be distributed by the Department of Commerce.

The first round of grant recipients consists of 501 small businesses from 20 counties around the state.

Businesses may use this money to pay for rent, utilities, supplies and inventory, and other non-payroll related expenses.

“Businesses can use this money to pay for rent, utilities, supplies, and inventory and other non-payroll operating expenses. For many of them, this could be the bridge that keeps them going until federal financial support arrives,” Inslee said.

“We know this is not enough to meet the need. We are focusing where we know funds will immediately recirculate and strengthen communities, and we continue seeking more resources to help small businesses survive and innovate as we all prepare for a ‘new normal’ in the aftermath of coronavirus,” Commerce Director Lisa Brown said.

“Unfortunately, this is pandemic hit and we don’t necessarily have the reserves to make it through this. So it’s greatly appreciated that these grants are here to help us because we’ve seen our sales decrease probably 50 percent or more. My employees and this community mean so much to myself and my family that we’re committed and we’re very for thankful for these small business grants,” Rob Owen said.

The next wave of Working Washington Small Business Grants will be announced in the coming weeks.

From Washington State Department of Commerce: Commerce awards first 500 Working Washington small business relief grants in 20 counties

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