Jess Pankey, an environmental health specialist with Clallam County Heath and Human Services, looks over a room filled with cots on Thursday at the Port of Port Angeles’ 1010 Building near William R. Fairchild International Airport as the building is converted to an isolation shelter for homeless individuals who might be infected with the novel coronavirus. Photo by Keith Thorpe/Olympic Peninsula News Group

Jess Pankey, an environmental health specialist with Clallam County Heath and Human Services, looks over a room filled with cots on Thursday at the Port of Port Angeles’ 1010 Building near William R. Fairchild International Airport as the building is converted to an isolation shelter for homeless individuals who might be infected with the novel coronavirus. Photo by Keith Thorpe/Olympic Peninsula News Group

COVID-19 center for homeless opens as officials prepare to increase testing

Clallam County has opened a COVID-19 quarantine and isolation center for the homeless population near William R. Fairchild Memorial Airport, Dr. Allison Unthank, county health officer, said.

No new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus were reported in Clallam or Jefferson counties on Tuesday as health officials continued to encourage physical distancing and prepare to increase testing.

Jefferson County had 28 confirmed cases of COVID-19 for a 12th consecutive day, said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer. Clallam County’s confirmed number of COVID-19 cases remained at 14, Unthank said.

Clallam County opened Monday a 25,000-square-foot quarantine and isolation center for the homeless population in the Port of Port Angeles-owned 1010 Building.

The temporary facility was designed for people showing symptoms of COVID-19 who do not require hospitalization.

It has a 60-bed isolation and quarantine unit and a 20-bed housing unit for other homeless people who can’t maintain a 6-foot physical distancing threshold, said Kathy Morgan, director of housing and community development for Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP).

The two populations will be separated.

“We don’t have anyone who’s needing the isolation and quarantine end at this point,” Unthank said Tuesday.

“All of our folks who are in home isolation have houses that they can isolate in, but the shelter side is open today.”

Clallam County commissioners approved a four-month lease for the 1010 Building on March 31. The county is paying the port $16,000 per month for the space.

“The other thing that we’re working on is starting to get some good guidance out to businesses for how to safely reopen when the time is right,” Unthank said.

Many businesses on the North Olympic Peninsula remain closed under Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay home order, which is set to expire May 4.

Unthank said it was hard to know whether the order would be extended beyond May 4.

“I don’t expect that we’re going to go all the way back to normal on the fourth,” Unthank said.

“Some industries will start going back to work, and then we’ll assess how that’s going, and then they’ll release additional industries from there.”

“I would say we should expect for our lives to look different for quite some time,” Unthank added.

“So that would include staying home as much as you can, keeping that 6 feet from other people when you’re out, frequent hand washing and avoiding these kind of large public gatherings.”

Clallam County health care workers had tested 925 patients for COVID-19 as of Tuesday.

Of those, 875 tests were negative, 14 were positive and 36 were pending, Unthank said.

Eleven of the 14 Clallam County patients that contracted COVID-19 had recovered from their symptoms, Unthank said.

State official visits

Locke and Jefferson Healthcare officials met Tuesday with retired Navy Vice Admiral Raquel Bono, who was appointed by Inslee to be a point-person for the statewide COVID-19 response.

“She’s a military trauma surgeon who has had really extensive experience in running health care systems and military hospitals and things like that,” Locke said after the meeting.

“She wanted to see rural Washington, so they brought her up here to Port Townsend.

“It was really impressive,” Locke added.

“She really gets it, what the priorities are, what the challenges are.”

Bono and her staff had also toured Grays Harbor County, Locke said.

In anticipation of more COVID-19 cases, Clallam County heath officials were training 20 “contact tracers” to identify those who may have been exposed to the virus, Unthank said.

Jefferson County had trained nine COVID-19 case investigators and will add volunteers if needed, Locke said.

More testing

Health officials also were working to ramp up COVID-19 testing.

“Our testing up to this point has been really constrained by the lack of resources, lab availability and testing kits and all those kinds of things, but that’s finally easing up,” Locke said.

“We really want to have people change gears, and at this point virtually any kind of illness, any COVID-like illness — so fevers and respiratory symptoms — we want to be testing people with those kind of symptoms.”

COVID-19 can be spread by people with mild symptoms, Locke said.

“We have to do a better job of sensitizing people to the fact that coronavirus can present in a wide range of ways,” Locke said.

“It can certainly cause life-threatening illness, but it can also cause very mild illness, and we need to find that as well because people with mild illness can spread it to people who are at risk of life-threatening complications.

“That’s going to be our big challenge as things open up again,” Locke said.

Senior staff writer Paul Gottlieb contributed to this report.

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