Health officer: Clallam could move to Phase 2 by June

Clallam County is now among those eligible to apply for an early Phase 2 reopening.

Kitsap, Mason, Thurston, Adams, Spokane, Lewis, Clark, Island and San Juan counties also were added to the list, according to Gov. Jay Inslee, who spoke at a morning press conference on May 19.

His expanded criteria not only allows more counties to reopen more quickly but also more businesses to resume operations.

Counties apply to the state Department of Health.

Jefferson County was made eligible several weeks ago and is working on an application.

Among other requirements, counties that apply for a Phase 2 variance must have fewer than 10 new cases per 100,000 population over a 14-day span and have hospital capacity to handle a surge in coronavirus cases.

The rest of the state is scheduled to move into Phase 2 on June 1, but that date is not guaranteed.

Phase 2 allows the following businesses to reopen:

• 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

• Restaurants/taverns with less than 50 percent capacity

There were no new COVID-19 cases in Clallam County over the weekend nor on Monday, as the county remained at 21 positive cases.

As of Tuesday, there were 21 positive COVID-19 cases in Clallam — with 19 reportedly recovered — with 1,836 negative tests and 66 pending.

Clallam County Health Officer Allison Unthank said she anticipates the county will be able to move to Phase 2 by June 1. The Phase 1 restrictions are set to end May 31.

Unthank said she hasn’t heard from state officials yet if the entire state will move to Phase 2 on June 1, although that was the preliminary schedule set weeks ago.

In her May 18 update, Unthank stressed being outdoors and keeping 6 feet of distance from people is very low risk and that people shouldn’t be stressing about visitors returning to the area with parks and fishing reopening.

“If you want to go on a hike, go on a hike,” she said. “If you walk by someone briefly who has come from Seattle, basically no risk to you.

“If you want to go fishing and someone is out there fishing and is from Seattle, also basically no risk to you, as long as you keep your distance and wash your hands,” she said.

Unthank said people are wanting to socialize with others again. She said she isn’t condoning that necessarily, but there are safe ways to do it.

“If you’re going to do that, what would be a safer interaction is meeting outside at a distance with someone you know and have that be very few people,” Unthank said.

“Don’t, on the other hand, go to Issaquah to spend the weekend with your mom. That is not safe. That is actually a way that a lot of folks have gotten this virus. These cases, by and large, picked up COVID-19 from their family.”

In a May 13 update, Unthank 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.”

State expands dental services

Gov. Inslee announced on May 18 that dentists and doctors’ offices can reopen immediately for non-urgent treatment if certain coronavirus safety protocols are in place, including personal protective equipment for workers.

Each medical or dental practice will be allowed to determine whether it is ready to expand services to patients, and will have to implement policies that include a limit on the number of people in waiting rooms and conducting temperature checks.

Those facilites, state officials said, must also have a plan for a reduction of services if there is an increase in COVID-19 cases in its region.

“This plan was developed with many partners in our health care delivery system — including nurses, surgeons, pediatricians, dentists, community health clinics and hospitals,” Inslee said.

In-house testing available

Olympic Medical Center and Jefferson Healthcare have begun in-house testing for COVID-19, reducing the turnaround time for test results.

Health officials on the North Olympic Peninsula also have deployed a patient-collected nasal swab that does not require a heath care worker to insert a nasopharyngeal swab into the back of a person’s nasal cavity.

Jefferson Healthcare last week began a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for COVID-19 that can be done at the Port Townsend hospital, county Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said.

“It just takes a couple of hours to get the result, and it’s my understanding that Olympic Medical Center is very close to having the same capability,” Locke said in a May 13 interview.

“Both hospitals did PCR tests for other things before this.”

OMC spokeswoman Bobby Beeman said last week she expected the Port Angeles hospital to begin in-house testing for COVID-19 on May 22.

“We can produce the result in an hour but are prioritizing in-house testing for emergency department orders, hospital inpatients, nursing home residents and emergent surgery patients until we receive additional COVID-19 testing cartridges to expand the test to general outpatients,” Beeman said in an email.

“Remaining tests will be continued to be sent to the University of Washington lab.”

Likewise, Jefferson Healthcare is prioritizing in-house testing for its emergency department and inpatients because of shortages in COVID-19-specific test cartridges that fit into existing PCR machines, Locke said.

“We’re still sending a lot of samples to the University of Washington because we’re getting a 24-hour turnaround from them,” Locke said.

“So we’re really doing both,” Locke said. “People in the emergency room and people who are inpatients, they use the in-house test because they kind of need to get their results right away.”

In-house testing will be expanded when Jefferson Healthcare receives more COVID-19 cartridges from the manufacturer, Locke said.

Patient-collected swabs

New studies have shown the patient-collected nasal swabs are “just as effective” as the nasopharyngeal swabs used by health care workers, Unthank said.

Nasopharyngeal (NP) swabs are inserted by health care workers into a patient’s nasal cavity “going back as far as basically your ear,” Unthank said.

“It’s not dangerous, but it’s unpleasant,” Unthank said in a COVID-19 briefing on may 13.

“We are recommending transitioning to only nasal swabs outside of the inpatient setting. So people at the hospital still should get an NP swab. Everyone else in clinics, or anyone in the public who’s feeling sick, will actually just get a swab of their nose.”

In addition to being more comfortable for the patient, the new swabs do not require a health care worker to wear personal protective equipment.

“The significance of that is it puts less risk on the health care provider,” Locke said.

“So, for instance, in our drive-by clinics, people can roll down their window, we can hand them the specimen kit, they can roll up their window, swab their nose, put it into the kit media and hand it out. There isn’t the exposure risk.”

Locke agreed the patient-collected swab is “just as good in terms of its ability to detect infection.”

“It’s easier on the patient, and it has less risk for the person collecting the sample,” Locke said.

“It should be a quicker, easier way of getting tested going forward,” Unthank said.

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