North Olympic Peninsula indoor businesses can increase occupancy from 25 percent to 50 percent indoors starting March 22 following Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement on Thursday that the entire state will move then to Phase 3 of the Roadmap to Recovery.
Also on Thursday, President Joe Biden announced that all adults should be made eligible for vaccine as of May 1.
As part of the state’s Phase 3, businesses such as restaurants, gyms and theaters will expand to 50 percent capacity, and seating capacity for outdoor sports will be allowed at 25 percent capacity.
In addition, on Wednesday, those in the 1B2 tier will be eligible for the vaccine.
That includes critical workers in congregate settings such as grocery stores, food banks, agriculture, courts, jails and corrections, as well as first responders not vaccinated under 1A, and people older than 16 who are pregnant or who have disabilities that put them at high risk for COVID-19 complications.
To stay in Phase 3, counties — not regions — need to meet two metrics that have different ceilings for counties below 50,000 population and those above.
Evaluated every three weeks starting April 12, counties the size of Clallam must have less than 200 new cases per 100,000 population over a two-week period and have fewer than five new COVID hospitalizations per 100,000 people over a one-week period.
Smaller counties like Jefferson have to have fewer than 30 cases over a two-week period and fewer than three new COVID hospitalizations over a one-week period.
While the expanded economic opening is welcome on the Peninsula, local health officers are concerned it is too early for other areas of the state.
The Peninsula has low levels of infection, but other areas are much higher. Moving forward as an entire state on March 22 might cause a spike in cases, especially with the more contagious UK variant spreading, county health officers said Thursday.
“I think it is appropriate for Clallam. I think we are ready,” said Dr. Allison Berry, Clallam County health officer. “I think our case rate is appropriate for that move.
“I am concerned about moving the entire state to Phase 3. Looking at the cutoff numbers for those phases, they are quite high. I am worried that moving the whole state to Phase 3 with those kind of metrics is setting us up for a rise in cases, at least statewide, which often then trickles out into Clallam.”
Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke shared her concerns, especially about the spread of the more contagious UK variant and that COVID-19 levels were still averaging more than 100 cases per 100,000 statewide as of Thursday.
“We’d feel much more comfortable if the rest of the state were where the Olympic Peninsula is,” Locke said. “That’s the gamble at this point — that although levels of COVID-19 have dropped substantially, it’s still relatively high levels.
“Our concern with opening too fast is that it will induce a fourth wave, and then that will require everything to shut down again, and that’s what we want to prevent,” he continued.
“We’re both concerned that it’s moving too fast and especially with things like baseball games … we can’t make them safe with just wishful thinking,” he said.
If people are careful about masking, distancing and other health measures, and “we continue to accelerate our pace with vaccinations, it may be possible to pull this off,” Locke said.
“It’s not impossible that you can do an economic reopening without triggering a fourth wave.
“Places like Texas and Mississippi are doing things that will guarantee a fourth wave, but here in Washington we’ve been much more cautious and a much better job at controlling this, and I suspect that that’s what’s behind the governor’s decision.”
Both counties are prepared to move into the 1B2 phase of vaccinations next week. Specific plans vary. Everyone in previous phases will continue to be eligible for the vaccines.
In Clallam, Jamestown S’Klallam as a tribal nation is able to start vaccinations for 1B2 before Wednesday, with a clinic scheduled Tuesday, as well as Thursday in Sequim. Appointments are available at vaccine.clallam.net/register, the tribe announced Wednesday.
The Port Angeles High School clinic will have appointments open at 9 a.m. Wednesday for next weekend’s vaccination clinic at vaccine.clallam.net/register. Those who prefer to schedule by phone can call 360-417-2430.
Jefferson Healthcare has people schedule for March 23 for 1B2, and as of Thursday, specific plans for next week’s vaccination clinics Wednesday and beyond were being developed, said Amy Yaley, hospital spokesperson.
Jefferson residents who qualify for the vaccinations are encouraged to check the hospital’s website Friday at jeffersonhealthcare.org/covid-19-vaccine for appointment availability, while the hospital awaits word on next week’s vaccination shipment.
Clallam County confirmed three new cases of COVID-19 Thursday among a household with children, Berry said.
Jefferson County held steady with no new cases since Feb. 25, Locke said.
Clallam County’s test positivity — the percentage of tests returned positive — was 1.6 percent from Feb. 22 to March 8, according to Clallam County Public Health data.
Jefferson County’s test positivity was zero percent for March 1-7.
Clallam County has confirmed 24 cases of COVID-19 so far this month, about 2.34 percent of the 1,025 cases confirmed during the past year, according to Clallam County data.
Jefferson County has not reported a case this month but has 336 in the past year, according to Jefferson County Public Health data.
Seventeen COVID-19 cases were active as of Thursday in Clallam County. Jefferson County had no active cases.
Jefferson County is in the state’s low-risk category with a case rate of 15.67 per 100,000 population for the two weeks prior as of Saturday.
Clallam County is in the state’s moderate-risk category with a case rate of 30 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as to Thursday.