Spokane County Officials Have To Wait For Variance Decision

May 15, 2020

Spokane County is surrounded by counties that were granted variances by the Washington Department of Health.
Credit Washington Department of Health

Spokane area elected officials voiced optimism on Thursday that the county will soon receive the state’s permission to allow more businesses to reopen.

Their strategy focused on a regional approach, allowing eastern Washington counties to craft their own reopening strategies. It has largely worked, but not for their county.

A map created by the Department of Health shows in yellow the nine counties that have permission to operate at stage two of Washington’s Safe Start reopening strategy. Spokane County is in orange, which designates stage one. It’s surrounded by yellow. Whitman County was the latest to earn that status on Friday.

Spokane County wants to join its neighbors. This week it submitted a variance request, making a medical case, that it is prepared to handle a second wave of infections. But it also made a regional economic case, says Health Officer Bob Lutz.

“We know people, sort of a commerce region, has been proposed by Secretary of Commerce Brown. It’s Northeast Tri, Lincoln and Spokane and people come and go, people shop, people work. The thought was that, the hope was that by presenting it as a regional approach there might be support for that," he said.

But it wasn’t persuasive, he says, because the state’s interest is in maintaining the public health.

“The recommendation for any variance was coming from Dr. Wiesman and the Department of Health. It was really a function of how comfortable he felt about that variance," Lutz said.

Spokane officials hope to hear more next week about new guidelines for more populous counties.