UPDATE (May 12 at 7:48 a.m. PT) — In-person shopping, salons and restaurants may return to two Washington counties near Oregon this week, with limitations.
The Washington Department of Health announced Monday that Skamania and Wahkiakum counties are approved to enter the second phase of the state’s four-phase plan to reopen the economy.
Both counties meet the state’s criteria: They have fewer than 75,000 residents and haven’t had any positive COVID-19 cases in at least three weeks.
Skamania County, home to roughly 12,000 people, is closest to the Portland metropolitan area among those approved to reopen. It’s situated at the entrance of the Columbia River Gorge and is home to popular hiking trails. Some trails are open, but popular trails at Dog Mountain and Beacon Rock remain closed.
Skamania County Commissioner Bob Hamlin said the county's businesses rely on foot traffic from the Portland area, but he hoped tourists won't arrive in overwhelming numbers as they did right before Gov. Jay Inslee's late March order for everyone to stay home.
"I've said it to other people: We'll invite the metropolitan area to be our guest in our county, but we also expect them to act like they're our guest," he said.
Wahkiakum County, population 4,000, borders Oregon as well, nearer to Astoria than Portland. Stevens County, in the northeast corner of the state, was also approved Monday.
Columbia, Garfield, Lincoln, Ferry and Pend Orielle counties were approved by the state late last week.
Salons, restaurants, bars and in-store retail purchases can all reopen in the second phase, but they won’t reopen immediately. Counties must wait for the state to release guidelines on how those industries can resume while minimizing exposure to the novel coronavirus.
Tara Lee, a spokesman with Inslee’s office, told OPB those guidelines could be released “within the next day or so.”
In the second phase, restaurants and bars must operate at 50% occupancy or less and can’t seat any tables with more than five people. The second phase allows social gatherings, but also caps those gatherings at five people.
The state said counties have to spend at least three weeks in each phase before graduating to the next, in order to monitor the virus and its transmission. The counties moving to Phase 2 already are smaller and largely rural.
“We started with these similar counties because we wanted to have good experience with them to give us confidence to move out to additional counties,” Inslee said in a press release Friday.
Editor's note: The story has been updated to clarify that Skamania County is closest to the Portland metro area of the two southwest Washington counties approved to reopen.