Moving the Dial Towards Recovery
Posted on 06/03/2020

The Governor’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy proclamation ended May 31st and our state has moved into a phased reopening plan called Safe Start. In this new approach, counties will now have more flexibility and the ability to apply to the Secretary of Health to demonstrate they can safely allow additional economic activity based on target metrics and a holistic review of their COVID-19 activity and ability to respond.

These decisions will be based on several factors, including the number of new people diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last two weeks, how many people needed to be hospitalized for COVID-19, and how quickly the virus is spreading. The state will also look at how much testing is happening in the county, the ability of the county to immediately contact people as they are diagnosed with COVID-19, and the readiness of the health care system for potential surges. 

Benton and Franklin Counties are currently in Phase 1. The application must be submitted by each County Executive, in accordance with instructions provided by the Secretary of Health. The Secretary of Health will evaluate the application based on how each county’s data compares to targets and the ability to respond to situations that may arise in their county, including outbreaks, increased deaths, health system capacity, and other factors. Of note, these metrics are intended to be applied as “targets,” not hard line measures. The Secretary may approve a county moving in whole to the next phase, or may only approve certain activities in the next phase. A final decision on whether a county is ready to implement a variance program rests with the Secretary of Health.

A move to Modified Phase 1 would mean relaxed restrictions on businesses, but residents cannot let their guard down on COVID-19. No vaccine exists for COVID-19, which means our community has little immunity. We cannot act in ways that could increase outbreaks, causing us to lose the progress for which we all worked so hard.

A Modified Phase 1 could include these activities:

  • Outdoor recreation and fitness classes with five or fewer people outside the household

  • Gatherings of five or fewer people outside the household

  • Outdoor dining at restaurants at 50% of existing outdoor seating capacity

  • Limited capacity pet grooming, real estate, and other professional and personal services

  • Additional construction, manufacturing, and photography as outlined in Phase 2 guidance

  • In-store retail at 15% of building capacity

Health District staff are hard at work on these efforts. As of May 30, Benton County averaged about six new cases a day per 100,000 people in the last 14 days while Franklin County averaged about 12 new cases per day per 100,000 in the last 14 days. Sixteen staff investigating as many as 50 cases a day; our goal is 45 contact tracers.

Everyone has a role to play in moving our community forward. What we do today can influence where we are weeks and months from now. Small ripples in the summer could become a tsunami in the fall.

Keep these tips in mind while continuing to protect yourself, your family and friends, and our community:

  • Continue to spend time with family and those you live with.

  • Check in with family, friends, and coworkers by phone, social media, or video calls to make sure they are OK and to offer encouragement.

  • Worship with your community of faith in the modified, allowable ways.

  • Exercise, eat healthily, and take care of your health issues. Remember that you still need to take medicines, get your children vaccinated, and otherwise keep up with health care.

  • Continue to stay home as much as possible and limit non-essential travel.

  • Continue all those healthy hygiene behaviors you have been doing—wash your hands, cover your cough, stay home if you are sick, clean high touch surfaces regularly.

  • Wear face coverings when you are in public and especially when you cannot easily keep physical distance from others.

  • If you are over 65 years old, with medical conditions, or are immune compromised, you may need to continue to stay home. Everyone’s health is different: check with your health care provider. 

  • Consult with your primary care provider if you have: cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or at least two of these symptoms: fever, chills, shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and loss of taste or smell.

Vaccines for COVID-19 are being developed but might not be ready for a year or two. Then, we still face the challenge of making enough and immunizing everyone.

We are stronger together and must stick together to move through these phases of reopening. The right choice for our personal health is also the right choice for our society and economy.