Health officer: Clallam nearing most criteria for Phase 2 reopening

Increased manufacturing and new home construction will be recommended today for early phase-in when Jefferson County leaders meet to discuss a slow reopening of the local economy, Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said.

Clallam County now meets most of the criteria outlined Wednesday for a safe reopening despite its exclusion from an early roll-out of Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-part COVID-19 recovery plan, Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank said.

No new coronavirus cases were reported on the North Olympic Peninsula on Wednesday.

Jefferson County commissioners, the county Board of Health and Port Townsend City Council will have a virtual meeting at 5 p.m. today to discuss a variance application for moving to the second phase of Inslee’s “Safe Start” plan.

The meeting can be viewed at tinyurl.com/PDN-PTcitymeetings.

Jefferson was one of 10 rural counties that qualified to move into the second phase of Inslee’s plan more quickly than other counties.

Clallam County did not qualify for an early entry into Phase 2 because of its population and because it has had confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the past three weeks.

District 24 legislators have sent a letter to Inslee requesting that Clallam County be added to the list.

Benefit/risk

Locke on Wednesday was preparing an analysis of potential industries that could reopen in Phase 2.

“The things that are high benefit and low risk rise to the top,” he said.

“So for instance, increased manufacturing and home construction.

“In Jefferson County, reopening the maritime industry and allowing new home construction, those are things with high benefit and low risk,” Locke added.

“It’s low risk because all the different physical distancing and infection-control things can be maintained in those settings.”

Physical distancing and infection control measures are still required under Inslee’s plan, which is available at www.governor.wa.gov.

“In the maritime industry, people very often wear masks anyway because they’re dealing with paint fumes and particulate matter and things like that,” Locke said.

“The things that have a much higher risk and uncertain benefit are the things that would drive tourism and potentially cause a wave of visitors from other parts of the state.”

Locke said he hears concerns about tourists traveling to Jefferson County from the Seattle area, which has a higher rate of coronavirus transmission than the North Olympic Peninsula.

“That is probably the No. 1 concern that people have is that they don’t want to stimulate tourism at this stage of the reopen,” Locke said.

“Later, we very much want that and would welcome people back to the Olympic Peninsula.”

Jefferson County had 28 positive COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday. Its most recent case was reported April 9.

Clallam County’s coronavirus case count remained at 18 for a fifth consecutive day Wednesday.

No COVID-19-related deaths have been reported on the North Olympic Peninsula.

Safe reopening

In a Wednesday briefing at the Clallam County Courthouse, Unthank said there had been “some consternation” about Clallam County’s exclusion from the fast track to reopen under the governor’s plan.

“We have slightly too much population to be included in that fast-track group, at least at this point,” Unthank said.

“So what I’m starting to turn my attention to is what do we need to do in order to safely reopen.”

Unthank said Clallam County should maintain low levels of disease activity, medical readiness and public health readiness before reopening.

She addressed each of the three criteria Wednesday.

Disease activity

Clallam County had a 1.3 percent positive rate for COVID-19 as of Wednesday. The benchmark for disease activity is a positive rate under 5 percent.

“We’ve always been there,” Unthank said.

“The other one that I would like to see before I would want to relax any physical-distancing measures would be no cases of community transmission.”

All Clallam County residents who contracted COVID-19 were either exposed out of the area or by someone in their household, she said.

“We also meet that measure at this point,” Unthank said.

Seventeen of the 18 Clallam County patients who contracted COVID-19 have recovered, including a 90-year-old woman who tested positive last week.

Medical readiness

“We need to be able to handle surge capacity at our hospitals and our long-term care facilities as far as beds and staff,” Unthank said.

“I think we’re there as far as beds and staff, which is good.”

Another requirement for medical readiness is an adequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) to handle a surge in cases after restrictions are lifted.

“I think we’re close on that,” Unthank said.

“We’re a little short on gloves and gowns, so we’re almost there as being able to support our hospitals and clinics with a surge if we did see one.”

Public health readiness

Clallam County now has the testing capacity to test anyone with COVID-19-like symptoms.

Unthank said more staffing is needed for contact tracing and to help businesses safely reopen.

“Honestly, I think we need more staff at the public health department in order to be able to meet that need,” Unthank said.

“This is going to be the biggest lift for our public health department that we’ve ever had.”

“I think that if we staff up and fully train our public health department to contact trace any cases that arise, there doesn’t have to be this fight between the economy and health,” Unthank said.

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