Officials concerned about increased travel from out of county

After a weekend of good weather with packed parks and trails, officials are concerned about a possible rise in the number of cases on the North Olympic Peninsula as a result.

As of Monday, there had been no additional cases of COVID-19 reported between Clallam and Jefferson counties, with the total of 48 holding.

In Clallam County, all 19 patients who had confirmed COVID-19 tests have recovered, said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.

Out of the 29 confirmed cases in Jefferson, 26 have recovered, according to Jefferson County Public Health.

The new case in Jefferson County raised concerns because Jefferson is one of the original 10 rural counties approved to be able to apply for a variance waiver to enter into Phase 2. However, one of the qualifications was that the county couldn’t have a new confirmed case in three weeks, Dr. Tom Locke, the Jefferson County health officer, said.

Now Locke is trying to learn where Jefferson County stands on waiver eligibility, as the county, city of Port Townsend and health board officials have several meetings scheduled through the next few weeks to discuss which Phase 2 openings the county could allow safely. Locke said he believes the state may relax

its policy on holding confirmed cases steady for three weeks in areas where case numbers already are few. With expanded testing capabilities now, Locke said, it would be unrealistic to expect no new cases.

Instead, the percent of positives in terms of total tests administered and the rate of transmission should be weighed more than the pure number, he said.

“It’s not really a realistic goal even for waivered counties, especially when you do expanded testing,” Locke said. “When you do expanded testing of a condition that’s highly contagious, and when many people with it are asymptomatic, you will find more cases.

“And that’s what we want to do, that’s how we control this, by finding cases and identifying contacts and breaking chains of transmission. So zero cases is not a realistic goal for anyone.”

Also in discussion at the state level is regional Phase 2 openings in combined counties such as Kitsap, Jefferson and Clallam, Unthank said.

Other areas such as Stevens and Mason counties have applied to be added to the variance list, even though they do not meet the three-week-long requirement, Locke said.

District 24 legislators sent a letter to the governor’s office last week, requesting Clallam to be added to the list, but the county has not received a response, Unthank said.

More than 1,500 people have been tested in Clallam County, and more than 900 have been tested in Jefferson County, officials said.

Last weekend, officials noted, area parks were busy with people. The Board of Jefferson County Commissioners asked Locke if there was a way to restrict local parks to only allow local people.

“Local jurisdictions can not restrict access to public places based on your legal residence,” Locke said. “As much as people would want, I don’t think that is our legal ability, and even if it were, I would discourage doing it.

“I think we’re all in this together, and we have got to find a better way to motivate people to self-restrict their travel.”

Unthank echoed Locke’s statement about how counties can not limit access to public places, but she also said she’s concerned with large numbers of people gathering.

“Technically, it is OK to travel out of county for a Phase 1 permissible activity,” Unthank said. “Which means it is OK to travel to a different county to go to a park as long as you don’t camp. That is currently legal.

“Not everybody agrees with that, but it is legal. I do recommend keeping that distance. If you see a crowded park, go to a different park.

“That’s really the best way we can all stay safe right now.”

Both counties are testing all patients who have symptoms consistent with COVID-19. They are not testing people who aren’t displaying symptoms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a person with a cough and shortness of breath/difficulty breathing, or with a combination of two or more of a fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell may have COVID-19.

Jefferson County residents must call the COVID-19 testing hotline at 360-344-3094 to make an appointment for a test.

Clallam County residents need to call their primary care provider. If they do not have one, there are three numbers that can be called between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. In Sequim, call 360-582-2930; in Port Angeles, call 360-565-0550; on the West End, call 360-374-6998, ext. 2.

All patients must call first in order to be tested.

‘Clallam Cares’ plan

Clallam County will develop a COVID-19 recovery plan with the help of a steering committee, commissioners said.

Commissioner Mark Ozias proposed Monday a “Clallam Cares” recovery plan that would take advantage of state and federal coronavirus relief and build a more resilient future.

“We’ve got an opportunity not just to try and plug some holes in the dike, but potentially really advance ourselves and to build a more resilient and more sustainable, more economically healthy community moving forward,” Ozias said.

Ozias drafted a three-page memo that maps out the COVID-19 landscape, lists recovery programs offered by local governments and nonprofits, identifies needs and opportunities, and proposes the makeup of a steering committee.

“I think we might be able to make some really significant gains beyond what we would be able to do under normal times, because these are not normal times,” Ozias said.

“Rising right to the top of the list, for me, anyway, is rural broadband.”

Ozias said there were “a lot of reasons” to make investments in rural broadband, including the increased use of telemedicine, distance learning and remote working during COVID-19.

Other opportunities exist in affordable housing, agriculture and local food systems, education, workforce training and public health, Ozias said.

He suggested a steering committee to lead the Clallam Cares recovery effort.

“I think that it would be really meaningful for our community, and it would be a real confidence-builder — and help make sure that we’re all doing as good a job as possible of working together — if the county were to provide some overarching guidance and leadership to help move us forward,” Ozias said.

The committee as proposed would include one county commissioner and one representative from the Port Angeles, Sequim and Forks city councils.

It would have representatives from the Lower Elwha, Jamestown S’Klallam, Quileute and Makah tribes, Port of Port Angeles, Clallam County Economic Development Council, North Olympic Development Council, Washington State University Extension, Olympic Community Action Programs and the Clallam County Public Utility District.

“I’m sure there are others out there,” Ozias said.

No commissioner objected to the Clallam Cares recovery plan or proposed steering committee Monday.

Commissioner Bill Peach said it would be “very helpful” to identify performance metrics to help the committee stay on track.

“I’m wondering if there’s maybe a need for just general public participation,” Peach said in the work session.

“Other than that, I think you’ve got a really good start for a working document.”

Commissioner Randy Johnson said the proposal “certainly makes a lot of sense.”

“It’s the beginning step that is, I believe, very necessary, both short term and, I think, longer term,” Johnson said.

Johnson questioned how the committee would interface with the county’s Emergency Operations Center, which is handling the county’s COVID-19 response.

Ozias said he would reach out to Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank and Undersheriff Ron Cameron before presenting a second iteration of his proposal.

Johnson said the steering committee would need to be flexible and respond quickly.

“I know there are gaps out there,” Johnson said. “I think we all do. We just don’t know where they are right now.”

Clallam County will be eligible for about $4 million in coronavirus relief through a portion of the federal CARES Act, Ozias said.

County Chief Financial Officer Mark Lane planned to participate in a Washington State Association of Counties conference on the COVID-19 pandemic today.

“I think we’re going to know a lot more over the next week or so about how local governments’ budgets should look,” Ozias said. We have a lot of reason to be strategic.”