Clallam and Jefferson counties will move into Phase 2 of the state’s Roadmap for Recovery on Monday.
That means indoor dining will be allowed at 25 percent capacity with a maximum of six people per table; gyms and indoor fitness centers can open at 25 percent capacity; outdoor sporting competitions can resume with limited spectators; and weddings and funerals can increase capacities.
Retail stores still will be limited to 25 percent capacity, according to the Roadmap plan.
County health officials, however, urge restraint and caution to avoid the reopening being only for the short term.
All but six of Washington state’s 39 counties will be in Phase 2 of the state’s economic reopening plan as of Monday, with five new regions meeting the requirements necessary to join two other regions that already had seen a loosening of COVID-19 restrictions, including limited indoor dining.
Clallam and Jefferson counties are included in the Northwest Region, which also contain Kitsap and Mason counties, a situation roundly condemned by local health officers and District 24 legislators, given the smaller number of COVID-19 cases on the North Olympic Peninsula.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday that the Northwest, East, North, North Central and Southwest regions, which comprise 26 counties across the state, will join the Puget Sound and West regions in the second phase of the plan.
The South Central region part of the state — Kittitas, Yakima, Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla and Columbia counties — will remain in Phase 1 for at least another two weeks.
“We believe this is a reasonably scientific-based position on the current conditions of this pandemic,” Inslee said.
Local health officers support the move to ease restrictions in Clallam and Jefferson counties because it will help struggling Peninsula businesses.
Still, they urge residents to use caution because virus transmission remains high and could increase if people aren’t careful.
“I think it will be a very positive step for the community,” said Dr. Allison Berry, Clallam County health officer.
“I know that many of our businesses are struggling and have been very much looking forward to the possibility of a very cautious and thoughtful reopening.
“I do stress ‘cautious and thoughtful,’ ” she added.
“I think one important thing to know is that moving forward to Phase 2 means that there are some things that we can do that we couldn’t before, but we still have to be thoughtful about how much exposure we have.”
Berry and Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer, recommend people avoid large gatherings and continue to wear face masks and practice social distancing and good hand hygiene.
“As we move into Phase 2, I just really want to encourage everyone to continue to exercise the caution that caused us to make it this far,” Berry said.
If people are not cautious, it’s possible for case rates to spike and the movement forward could be reversed, Locke said.
“We have concerns that COVID levels are still pretty high,” he said.
“If people continue or increase their cautions, it should go fine, but if people, say, interpret this as a ‘green light’ to start increasing risky behaviors, we’re likely to see this as a being a short-term reopening.
“Hopefully this will be beneficial for the business owners. I think it’s been profoundly unfair that business owners have had to pay the cost of all of these closures,” Locke said.
“If the U.S. had a rational COVID policy, the people who closed would be compensated for their economic loss, because it’s not the fault of restaurant owners that indoor venues like that promote COVID transmission,” he continued.
“I’m completely in favor of any openings where we can control transmission.”
Vaccination clinic close
Vaccination clinics in Sequim, Port Angeles and Forks scheduled for this weekend have been canceled because of impending inclement weather.
The Sequim clinic organized by the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe on Saturday was canceled “because of snow and high winds forecasted by the National Weather Service,” said Brent Simcosky, Health Services Director for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, in an email late Thursday.
“The safety of both our volunteers, staff and patients is of the utmost importance,” he said.
The Forks vaccination clinic this weekend was canceled by mid-week, and Clallam County Emergency Management officials announced Friday afternoon that the Port Angeles clinic slated for the weekend has also been cancelled.
If appointments are canceled, Berry said, those with appointments will be contacted to reschedule the following weekend.
On Thursday, Clallam County confirmed four new cases connected with a birthday party outbreak, while Jefferson County confirmed one new case, Berry and Locke said.
Clallam County’s test positivity — the percentage of tests returned positive — was 2.7 percent from Jan. 24 to Feb. 7, Berry said.
Jefferson County’s test positivity was 3.42 percent for Feb. 1-7.
So far this month, Clallam County has confirmed 28 cases of COVID-19, which is 2.9 percent of the 964 cases confirmed since last March, according to Clallam County Public Health data.
Jefferson County has confirmed 20 cases of COVID-19, about 6.17 percent of the 324 it has confirmed since last March, according to Jefferson County Public Health data.
Twenty-one COVID-19 cases were active as of Wednesday in Clallam County, with two people hospitalized.
Jefferson County had 16 active cases.
Clallam County is in the state’s moderate-risk category with a case rate of 74 per 100,000 population during the past two weeks as of Thursday.
The case rate in Jefferson County was 128.53 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Saturday, in the state’s high-risk category.