Clallam County issues emergency declaration

Commissioners cite critical shortage of protective gear

Clallam County commissioners have declared an emergency because of COVID-19.

The emergency declaration gives the county more flexibility to spend money on the local response to the global pandemic.

“While this is a little bit of an oversimplification, the normal way things work in county government is that we have process first and we spend money later,” Commissioner Mark Ozias said before a 3-0 vote commissioners on March 17.

“And in emergency situations like this, that is somewhat reversed in that we’re able to spend money up front when necessary within appropriate parameters and then we do the process later,” Ozias said.

The resolution declaring an emergency cites a “critical shortage” of masks and other personal protective equipment for first responders and health care workers in Clallam County.

“If I could emphasize that any more strongly, I would,” Ozias said of the PPE shortage.

Meanwhile, the three commissioners voted to accept a $443,368 grant from the state Department of Commerce to provide emergency housing assistance during the COVID-19 crisis.

“The Department of Commerce allocated money based on the Point in Time count, which is the homeless count for each county, and $30 million was allocated,” Commissioner Randy Johnson said.

“The allocation that came to Clallam County for this related to COVID-19 and all the issues with homelessness was $433,368.”

Later in the meeting, commissioners passed a resolution to opt-in as the administrator of the Commerce grant to support sheltering activities amid the COVID-19 emergency.

State health officials said the death toll for coronavirus in Washington reached 50 on March 17.

There were 904 confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported by the state Department of Health.

Clallam County had no confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of March 17. Health officials suspect low levels of coronavirus transmission in Clallam County that has not been detected due to a lack of testing capacity.

The Clallam County emergency declaration authorizes county officials to seek state and federal assistance and reimbursement for money spent on the COVID-19 response.

“I’d like to highlight once again for the public that your county public health officer, Dr. (Allison) Unthank, your first responders and the entire county team is working diligently to address this crisis,” Ozias said during the meeting.

“I know that there’s a lot of anxiety that we all hold right now, and I want to do everything I can to reassure the public that your team is on it. We have an amazing group of leaders here in Clallam County who are operating in less than ideal circumstances given the challenges that we have.”

Ozias said county employees can expect new policies and procedures in the coming days to address COVID-19.

“It’s obviously a complex and rapidly-evolving situation,” Ozias said.

“There are some things that we have the ability to affect or control and many that we don’t that we’re just responding to.”

Unthank, who attended the meeting, suggested that county employees work from home if they are able.

“As much as possible, we’d like to have them still working but working from home,” Unthank said.