Don’t plan on any large gatherings until at least September, Clallam County’s health officer said.
Dr. Allison Unthank on Wednesday provided conservative estimates for when she expected Clallam County to be ready for the phased reduction of physical distancing measures under Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-part “Safe Start” plan for COVID-19.
“If I were a business owner, I would plan on June 1, July 15 and Sept. 1,” Unthank said, referring to Phases 2, 3 and 4.
“Obviously, there are things between now and then that could change, but I know, as business owners, you need something to plan on, and I think those are relatively safe ideas about when you would move.”
No new cases of the novel coronavirus were reported on the North Olympic Peninsula on Wednesday.
Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke agreed with the dates that Unthank offered for the potential reopening of services in Clallam County.
“We know from the governor’s plan that the minimum interval is three weeks between the different phases,” Locke said in a Wednesday interview.
“And we also know that the governor’s current (Phase 1) order goes though May 31. But the real driver of this is how successfully the new case rate is being suppressed.”
But services could open sooner in Jefferson County, where officials hope to apply for a variance to enter Phase 2 earlier than other counties. It was one of 10 counties the governor’s office listed as being eligible to apply; eight so far have been approved for early Phase 2.
The Jefferson County Board of Health will consider a variance request to move from Phase 1 to Phase 2 at 2:30 p.m. today. To view the meeting, go to www.co.jefferson.wa.us.
Jefferson County’s proposed Phase 2 variance is based on having no new cases in three weeks, so officials are trying to determine when the county’s most recent case was contracted.
A woman in her 90s was confirmed to have COVID-19 last weekend, representing Jefferson County’s first case in more than a month. The woman is recovering at home.
“We’re still investigating this new case and trying to determine when it occurred,” Locke said.
“We’re doing a really detailed investigation to try to pin that down, and we should complete it by (today).”
A person can test positive for COVID-19 for up to eight weeks after becoming infected, Locke said.
“People are not infectious that long, but their test can stay positive,” Locke said.
Phase 2 of Inslee’s plan would reopen nonessential manufacturing, construction, offices, hair and nail salons, and restaurants and bars that operate at less than half capacity.
It also would allow outdoor recreation involving five or fewer people outside a person’s household.
Clallam County was not listed by the governor as eligible to move into Phase 2 earlier because its population slightly exceeds 75,000 and because recent cases had been confirmed within the past three weeks.
“I would say the earliest I would anticipate Clallam County moving to Phase 2 at this point would be June 1,” Unthank said in Wednesday’s briefing at the county’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC).
“There was some hope raised by our (legislative) representatives that we might be able to go to Phase 2 earlier. I don’t think that’s going to happen, in truth. The state set out clear criteria for how you get into Phase 2, and we just don’t meet it.”
Instead of a Phase 2 variance, Unthank said she was advocating for a regional reopening plan for Clallam, Jefferson and Kitsap counties. The regional plan would be based on having a positive COVID-19 case rate of less than 5 percent and no active outbreaks.
As of Wednesday, Clallam County’s positive case rate was 1.2 percent with 19 positive cases of the 1,632 tested.
Jefferson County had a 2.7 percent positive rate with 1,080 tests and 29 positives.
“I think that’s a much truer measure of your epidemic than just sheer number of cases, because that’s very much driven by testing,” Unthank said.
Phase 3 of Inslee’s plan would allow gyms to reopen and gatherings of up to 50 people. Restaurants and bars could operate at less than 75 percent capacity, and movie theaters could open at half capacity.
Libraries and museums also could reopen at Phase 3.
“Once we go to Phase 2, we’ll probably be in that for at least six weeks,” Unthank said.
“Really, the earliest we would be at a Phase 3 reopening is July 15. And again, I think we’d be in that for at least six weeks before we’d move forward.”
Phase 4 of Inslee’s plan would allow gatherings of more than 50 people, including large sporting events and concerts.
“The earliest I would see that is Sept. 1,” Unthank said.
“I don’t think we’re anywhere near Phase 4,” she added.
“Those are really high-risk areas, things where you have a lot of really close contact and also people in high risk groups.”
Meanwhile, health officials were tracing six contacts of a King County woman who tested positive for COVID-19 in Clallam County. All six contacts were in home quarantine.
“Two are getting tested today because they are starting to show symptoms, so we may get some additional cases out of that exposure,” Unthank said.
To advance the state’s reopening plan, Locke said a good benchmark would be to have 100 or fewer new cases daily.
“Right now, it’s about 250 a day,” Locke said.
“If we could get that below 100, then the phases would move forward expeditiously.
“If, on the other hand, we see a surge of cases as the restrictions are loosened up,” Locke added, “then that means that we’re going to have to do things slower and find other ways to control that surge.”