COVID-19 outbreak at Twin City Foods puts Phase 2 reopening on hold in Kittitas County

KITTITAS COUNTY, Wash. -- Eight counties in Washington can now move into Phase 2 of Governor Jay Inslee’s Safe Start Washington plan. It is a phased approach towards recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Upon approval to move forward, the state’s plan allows counties to reopen the economy and recreation with specific guidelines. Kittitas County, however, is still waiting to get the green light on its variance application. Base Camp Books and Bites in Roslyn was hoping the county would be approved to move into phase two by now. “We want to be open, but I’m going to trust that our officials are looking out for our best interests because we don’t have any other choice at the moment,” said Stephen Malek, Base Camp Books and Bikes owner. While business remains slow, Malek said his team has been preparing for the possibility of fully reopening under the Safe Start plan. “Having to add in multiple hand sanitizing stations just to stay, hopefully, above and beyond the requirements needed to enter into Phase 2,” said Malek. Now Malek, his team and business owners across the county will have to wait longer since the county’s variance application is on hold. Many of them said they thought the county's application was going to be approved right away. “I have no guesses at this point. I really thought we were there, and I thought we would have been open last week. So, at this point, I have no more guesses,” said Jody Burchak, a stylist at Talerico’s Hair Design in Cle Elum. The Kittitas Public Health Department said the pause is due to an outbreak at Twin City Foods Inc. in Ellensburg. The latest test results show 34 employees were positive for COVID-19, bringing the county total to 40 cases, as of May 12th. The Safe Start plan requires no new cases of COVID-19 in the last three weeks. “Now that we’re in the midst of an outbreak, our number one limiting factor is truly time. The longer it takes us to do this work, the longer COVID-19 is in our community,” said Tristen Lamb, Kittitas County Public Health Department director. Lamb is also the Deputy Incident Commander for the department’s Incident Management Team. She spoke during a virtual news conference hosted by Governor Inslee, Tuesday. During the news conference, she said the health department is ramping up efforts to address the outbreak at the facility and throughout the county. This includes more testing at all clinics and increased case and contact investigations across the community to prevent coronavirus from spreading elsewhere. Business owners across the county said they hope the increased efforts speed up the process to open their doors again. “We all know what we need to do, and we have to face this, eventually, publicly and we have to reopen. And, so we’re just going to have to be smart about it and we need to do it sooner than later,” said Burchak. Twin City Foods Inc. is working closely with the county health department’s Incident Management Team.