Peninsula officials discuss CARES funding

Public health officials were investigating three new COVID-19 cases on the North Olympic Peninsula on Tuesday while Clallam and Jefferson county leaders were making plans to distribute millions in federal coronavirus relief funding.

Clallam County officials — including city, port and economic development representatives — formed six working groups Monday to direct the allocation of $4.18 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding for needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Each entity will of course be able to determine how they would like to use that funding, but I think, at the very minimum, it would be helpful to understand how each other are thinking so that if there are opportunities either to avoid overlap or to make strategic choices, we’re at least giving ourselves a chance to talk about it,” Clallam County Commissioner Mark Ozias said at the meeting.

Jefferson County has been allocated a $1,754,000 reimbursement CARES grant. County officials are analyzing what funds they will need from that, said Philip Morley, Jefferson County administrator.

They want to use the CARES funds only as a last resort, once short-falls are more clear, he said.

New cases

Clallam County health officials reported two new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday.

A man in his 80s was exposed to COVID-19 outside of the area, and a man in his 20s had an in-county exposure, Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank said.

“They’re two distinct cases,” Unthank said Tuesday.

“We’re doing the investigation right now.”

Jefferson County health officials were investigating a case that emerged late Sunday involving an asymptomatic juvenile who was tested for COVID-19 prior to having surgery in another area.

“This is one of the big issues right now in public health — how do we find these asymptomatic cases?” Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said.

“It’s a good thing when we find these, but they’re hard to find.”

Clallam County had 27 positive cases of COVID-19 from 2,578 samples tested as of Tuesday, a positive rate of 1.05 percent.

Jefferson County had 31 positive cases from 1,835 tests, a positive rate of 1.69 percent.

Health officials expect to see a rise in coronavirus transmission as the economy begins to reopen.

“Even as we move forward with this reopening, COVID is still out there,” Unthank said in a telephone interview.

“So it’s incredibly important for us to keep being safe, keep practicing our distancing and keep staying home from work if we’re sick, and getting tested if we do.”

Concern for protesters

Locke encouraged Jefferson County residents who may have participated in George Floyd marches in Seattle, Bellevue or Tacoma to be tested for COVID-19 if they develop viral symptoms like fever, sore throat or cough over the next two weeks.

“Whereas these (protests) are completely understandable from a social justice perspective, they’re also dangerous from an infectious disease perspective,” Locke said in a telephone interview.

“When you have a lot of people crowded together and shouting, and only some of them wearing masks, this is a really bad time for this to be happening. This is something that could ignite another wave of infections.

“I don’t say that as a comment against the protests,” Locke added.

“I say it just as something we have to be prepared for in public health. If this triggers another wave of infection, we have to be prepared to respond to it.”

More on CARES funds

Clallam County commissioners hosted a CARES Act roundtable Monday with representatives of the cities of Port Angeles and Sequim, Port of Port Angeles, Clallam County Economic Development Council, North Olympic Development Council and Washington State University Clallam County Extension.

About $4.18 million in CARES Act funding will be allocated to Clallam County and its cities though the state Department of Commerce, county officials said. The money can be used through Oct. 31.

“I don’t want to see that money disappear back to the state because I look at our needs in this county, and they’re insurmountable, unfortunately,” Commissioner Randy Johnson said in the work session.

Some of the Jefferson County funds have already been dedicated to assisting The Chamber of Jefferson County and the North Hood Canal Chamber of Commerce with standing up the JeffCoCares program, which is providing technical assistance to businesses opening in Phase 2 and eventually in Phase 3, Morley said.

Morley was working on a proposal on Tuesday to possibly put before the Board of Jefferson County Commissioners next Monday. The proposal would allocate $125,000 to the Team Jefferson Economic Development Council to distribute as grants to local businesses.

The City of Port Townsend has been allocated a $288,300 grant through the CARES act. The City Council accepted the grant Monday night and plans an in-depth discussion on how it may be used at their meeting next Monday night.

Here are the Clallam County CARES Act working groups that were formed Monday with their designated lead:

• Child care: Sequim City Manager Charlie Bush.

• Rental and utility assistance: Port Angeles City Manager Nathan West.

• Public health: Ozias.

• Business and non-profit support: Clallam County EDC Director and Port of Port Angeles Commissioner Colleen McAleer.

• Food security: Clallam County WSU Extension Director Clea Rome and North Olympic Development Council Director Karen Affeld.

• Homelessness: Johnson.

“Within the next two weeks, each of these groups is going to get together and attempt to define the scope and the timeline for this particular need, and try and identify what resources currently exist or have been deployed already so that we can see what’s the delta between where we’re at and what need is,” Ozias said.

“Parallel to that, each entity, county and cities, is going to do a little bit of work to try and put together what we’ve spent already of these funds so we know what is left yet to be prioritized.”

Clallam County commissioners will host another work session on CARES Act funding June 15.