Clallam County can apply to enter Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase COVID-19 reopening plan but does not meet all of the criteria announced Tuesday, county Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank said.
“My thought is that I think we will be ready as a county to safely move to Phase 2 by the end of the month,” Unthank said Tuesday.
At the same time, four new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Clallam County on Tuesday.
Nine other counties are newly eligible for early Phase 2, Inslee announced Tuesday. They are Adams, Clark, Kitsap, Island, Lewis, Mason, San Juan, Spokane and Thurston.
Jefferson County has been eligible to apply for a Phase 2 variance for several weeks and is working on an application.
Among other requirements, counties that apply for a variance must have fewer than 10 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 population in the last two weeks and have hospital capacity to handle a surge in cases.
While Clallam County meets those criteria, it does not yet have the public health capacity to rapidly and effectively perform outbreak investigations in congregate living spaces and workplaces, Unthank said.
“I don’t think we can certify that today, but my hope is with the new positions that just got approved by the Board of (County) Commissioners (Monday), we will have capacity to do that by the end of this month,” she said.
Clallam County commissioners agreed to hire additional public health staff to help respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We did just get that approval, so we are moving forward on training and recruiting staff to fill those positions,” Unthank said.
The rest of the state is scheduled to move into Phase 2 of the four-phase plan June 1, but Inslee said that date is not guaranteed.
Unthank told the Clallam County Board of Health on Tuesday it was unlikely the entire state would move into Phase 2 on June 1.
Phase 2 allows outdoor recreation and gatherings of up to five people.
Businesses allowed to reopen under the second phase of Inslee’s plan are remaining manufacturing, additional construction phases, in-home/domestic services, retail with restrictions, real estate, professional services and office-based businesses, hair and nail salons and barbers, pet grooming and restaurants or taverns with less than 50 percent capacity.
“I’m glad to know that the governor is looking at metrics that quantify the risk level in a way that captures the situation more accurately,” said Colleen McAleer, Clallam County Economic Development Council executive director and a Port of Port Angeles commissioner, in a Tuesday interview.
“I think a lot of people in our county are suffering and watching everything they’ve worked for decline over the recent months, and that is just devastating.
“But we also have to balance that against the need to ensure that visitors to our county don’t bring the virus and potentially cause us to have another shutdown, or even worse, loss of lives,” McAleer added.
Earlier this month, the three members of the 24th Legislative District’s delegation sent a letter to Inslee to ask that Clallam County be added to the list of counties that were initially tabbed for Phase 2 eligibility.
The 24th District encompasses the North Olympic Peninsula.
The letter was drafted by state Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, Steve Tharinger, D-Port Townsend, and state Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim.
“I think we made our case, and I think the public health officials have also done a good job of also articulating how we’re managing the virus here in Clallam County,” Chapman said in a Tuesday interview.
“The hospitals have not been overrun with cases, and I think our small businesses are ready to open their doors.”
Chapman said local health, emergency management and economic development officials helped convince the state that Clallam County should be eligible for early Phase 2.
“This will allow our rural economy to continue to improve and get better as we move into the summer season,” Chapman said.
“I appreciate the governor listening to the three legislators in our letter.”
Four new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Clallam County on Tuesday.
Unthank told the Board of Health all four were related to a couple in their 50s who were recently exposed to another confirmed case that was tested in Clallam County but is a King County resident.
“They’re all from the same household,” Unthank said of the new cases.
Clallam had 25 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday. Jefferson County had 30 cases. Most of the confirmed cases in both counties are considered to be recovered.
The Clallam County Board of Health passed a motion Tuesday recommending that state parks within the county reopen for overnight camping beginning June 1 provided that “adequate hygiene facilities are available and maintained for the anticipated number of overnight campers.”
The Board of Health is expected to discuss next steps for Phase 2 implementation at its next meeting.
In order to be granted a Phase 2 variance, counties must provide a letter from hospitals saying they have adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), beds and staffing to handle a surge in a COVID-19 cases, Unthank said.
“The only thing that our hospitals didn’t have was PPE, but through all the different kinds of work that we’ve been doing with ordering, and local people donating, I think we are actually at that point now,” Unthank said.
A Phase 2 variance requires a recommendation from the county health officer, Board of Health and approval by county commissioners.
“We need all three of those pieces in place in order move to a Phase 2 early,” Unthank said.
During his press conference, Inslee said it would be important “not to overload these frequently smaller communities in their restaurants or otherwise” during Phase 2.
“It’s really a time to remain close to home, and we know some of these smaller communities have tried to reiterate that with us so that they are not overwhelmed,” Inslee said.
“I hope people can keep that in mind.”