County COVID update

As San Juan County approached three weeks without a new confirmed case of COVID-19, a 15th case arose on San Juan Island. Meanwhile, the county is still working toward reopening the local economy and the County Council discussed its plans at its May 5 meeting.

“We need to do what we can, as aggressively as we can, of opening up the economy. I’m a big fan of opening up the economy,” San Juan County Public Health Officer Dr. Frank James said. “We should be able to move forward more quickly than other communities. We’ve had a very effective response so far. Those are all things in our favor to move forward more quickly.”

The county is considering a “soft opening,” which would encourage local businesses to open for local residents first and then extend that to tourists when the time is right.

“I don’t think we’re ready yet for people from outside of the county to come swarming in,” County Council Chairperson Rick Hughes said.

James agreed with Hughes adding that opening needs to be done in a practical way and that he’d like everyone to be wearing masks.

“We need to do everything we can to get the economy rolling. We’re not going to be back to business as usual for the better part of two years,” James said. “This is not a sprint. This is something we’re going to need to do and we want to do it as safely and effectively as possible.”

Knowing that groups of more than 50 people are not going to be allowed until Phase Four of Inslee’s four-phase reopening plan — which will be late July or early August at the earliest — the San Juan County Fair was canceled in favor of a virtual fair.

“Hopefully whatever is implemented this year could continue in coming years for the fair,” Fairgrounds and Events Manager Jennifer Allen said.

Included in a virtual fair would be 4-H youth participation, agricultural events and some kind of entertainment, Allen explained. The fair department is still trying to figure out how to include service groups.

“Virtual fair is going online, it’s opening up to possible online entries and submissions which 4-H is already set up to do … The idea is to stay relevant to the mission of fairs and maybe reach out to a broader demographic in general for participation in these various sections of fair,” Allen said. “So basically, trying to stay relevant, trying to keep it simple, trying to integrate all of the aspects that we normally have at fair with the hope of maybe reaching out to new people.”

Washington State University Extension Office Director Brook Brouwer said his office is looking into what 4-H programs across the state are doing since county fairs are being closed statewide.

“Our absolute priority is supporting San Juan County youth and making sure that they’re able to complete their 4-H year,“ Brouwer said.

Allen explained that the virtual fair is anticipated to cost less than $50,000, but does not include the fairgrounds’ year-round staffing. The annual physical fair usually costs around $150,000 not including staffing, she added.

“I think it’s really important that we continue to have a fair even though it’s virtual. I think we’re used to — at this point — tuning into things and I think it will be successful,” County Manager Mike Thomas said. “I’d like to thank [the fair department] for their quick work and the work they’ve done with the 4H community and others to come up with some pretty darn cool ideas for a fair this year.”