Health officer: No mask mandate for Clallam

While Jefferson County has mandated masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and is considering criminal and civil penalties, Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank said she will not recommend a mandate that would include penalties.

Clallam County had no new confirmed cases of the virus this weekend, keeping the county at 33 total with 27 patients listed as recovered.

Unthank said Clallam County dropped from 34 cases to 33 because a recent case turned out to be a false positive.

Over the weekend, Gov. Jay Inslee mandated masks for Yakima County, which is having a COVID-19 outbreak. It had 6,326 confirmed cases in a county of just 250,000 people, according to the state Department of Health.

That means one person out of 39 in Yakima County has been infected with COVID-19. If the same rate of infection was in Clallam County, there would be 1,846 cases in the county.

Inslee has mandated that businesses require their employees to wear masks in most workplaces.

On Monday, Jefferson County received a presentation from Dr. Tom Locke about possible criminal and civil penalties for not wearing a mask. He pointed out that nearby San Juan County did that in May, with possible misdemeanor charges for people failing to wear masks in businesses.

Unthank said she is not recommending those kinds of requirements.

“We’re not looking at criminal mandates,” she said.

Any mandate would be difficult for law enforcement to enforce, Unthank said, and many people legitimately have medical reasons for not being able to wear masks for long periods of time, such as problems with breathing or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Unthank said it is possible Inslee could require a statewide mask mandate at some point if cases in the state start to increase quickly.

“It could happen, especially with how fast cases are rising east of the Cascade mountains,” Unthank said. “What’s going on in Yakima is really dangerous.”

Phase 3

Unthank said she and her staff will be collecting data this week in preparation for the county application to move to Phase 3 of Inslee’s four-part Safe Start plan.

In Phase 3, libraries and museums and more businesses such as gyms can open. Restaurants can increase capacity to 75 percent, and bars can increase capacity to 25 percent.

The Clallam County Board of Health will meet June 30 to consider filing an application with the state for moving to Phase 3. Jefferson County is expected to make a similar application June 29.

In other updated numbers, 3,891 tests have been performed in Clallam County, and 3,822 were negative with 36 pending. Three people have been briefly hospitalized.

No deaths have been reported due to COVID-19 in either Clallam or Jefferson counties.

Employee masks

As of June 8, employees have been required by Gov. Jay Inslee to wear face coverings unless they work alone or have no interaction with others. Businesses must provide cloth face coverings for employees and post signage “strongly encouraging” customers and clients to follow suit.

Employees can use their own face coverings if they meet minimum requirements. (https://tinyurl.com/PDN-FaceMasks).

“We are seeing more businesses who are deciding to not follow the rules, so we are having to do more outreach with them, and then actually referring them to [the state Department of) Labor and Industries to actually fine them and potentially pull business licenses and things like that,” Unthank last week.

“I’ve been disappointed by the lack of mask-wearing in public, including in businesses. It is the law that people have to mask, as employees.”

Unthank said her two-person COVID-19 team is prioritizing outreach efforts on high-risk businesses that are most likely to cause an outbreak.

Unsuccessful efforts to obtain voluntary compliance could lead to Health and Human Services revoking a permit and, if an outbreak occurs, shutting it down, she said.

“We do have the authority to revoke the permit,” she said.

Efforts at voluntary compliance have been more of a challenge than she had hoped, Unthank added.

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