The three state legislators representing District 24 want to see Clallam County added to the list of those that can apply for an earlier roll-out of Phase 2 activities than other counties in the recovery from COVID-19 restrictions.
The three Democrats sent a letter Tuesday to Gov. Jay Inslee asking that Clallam County be added to a list of 10 counties that includes Jefferson and Grays Harbor counties.
Jefferson County and a portion of Grays Harbor make up District 24 along with Clallam County.
“Like our neighbors Jefferson and Grays Harbor, Clallam County has a small population and has only had a small number of confirmed cases (18 to date),” says the letter signed by Reps. Mike Chapman and Steve Tharinger, and Sen. Kevin Van De Wege.
“We have been in contact with our hospitals and health officers and know that these cases were contracted outside our county,” the letter continues.
“The latest unemployment numbers, meanwhile, indicate Clallam County has the second highest unemployment rate in the state.”
Said Chapman of Port Angeles in a phone interview Tuesday: “Our economy is really struggling out here. We are at the end of the line. … We have got to have people back to work.”
Inslee announced Friday that counties that had not had a new case of COVID-19 in the past three weeks could apply to the state Department of Health with a plan to move to Phase 2 on a faster timeline than the rest of the state.
Jefferson County has not had a new case confirmed since April 9. It has a total of 28 cases.
Clallam County, which has a total of 18 confirmed — with 17 recovered — has had seven cases since April 10.
Population was brought up as an issue in the decision of those counties eligible for waiver early on, but initial reports of a 50,000 population cap were not correct, as the number changed to 75,000 later on Friday, according to the governor’s office, which added that Clallam is not the only county to have requested a variance.
Clallam County’s population — 77,331 in 2019 — is similar to that of Grays Harbor — which had 75,061 in 2019, Tharinger of Port Townsend pointed out.
“Clallam is experiencing very few cases and no deaths, which is wonderful,” Tharinger said.
“We didn’t request any lifting of the protocols you have to go through.
“We thought it made sense for the three counties in our district to be on the same timeline.”
Tharinger, a lieutenant at Clallam County Fire District 3 in Sequim, was not available for comment on Tuesday.
Colleen McAleer, executive director of the Clallam County Economic Development Corp., said Tuesday the county’s businesses are struggling.
“People are weighing their options and waiting see what kind of federal support comes through, but the clock is ticking.
“Every day we wait, we are risking more businesses going under.”
Chapman said that the earlier designations of businesses as essential and non-essential left out small businesses.
“I see closed businesses, but big box retailers are as busy as they have ever been,” Chapman said Tuesday.
“I go to Port Angeles and most of our small businesses are closed. They can practice social distancing as good if not better than Costco, Walmart and Home Depot, but they are not allowed to be opened.”
The letter said that hundreds of constituents and businesses “desperately asking for help” had contacted the legislators.
“Many of our small businesses are much better prepared to implement safe social distancing than big box retailers,” the letter said.
It also said that several manufacturing companies “provide hundreds of family-wage jobs, and the loss of any would have devastating long-term consequences to our area.”
Tharinger said the governor’s office responded that the letter would be considered.
The hospitals have the capacity to manage any sort of surge that might happen,” he said, adding that he is concerned about a possible influx of a lot of people from the Interstate 5 corridor.
“We don’t want that surge of virus coming with them,” Tharinger said.
Tharinger said he has great confidence in health officers’ abilities to work with local businesses to protect people.
“The virus is writing the script here, so we have to err on the side of good health policies,” he said.
“It’s a tough equation to get right.
But, “I’m interested in starting the process.”