PORT ANGELES — Entrepreneurs struggling to stay afloat on the North Olympic Peninsula during the COVID-19 pandemic have been hungry for information about government assistance, including a Small Business Administration loan program.
Colleen McAleer, Clallam County Economic Development Council executive director, has directed four or five dozen business owners to www.sba.gov/disaster.
Inquiries have come “from anywhere from large business to restaurants with more than 50 employees to a lot of independent contractors to hairdressers, massage therapists, chiropractors, and a couple of maritime companies,” McAleer said Thursday.
Business owners in Jefferson County have shown interest but are taking a wait-and-see attitude, said Arlene Alen, executive director of The Chamber of Jefferson County.
“The feedback I’ve gotten is yes, but not right now,” Alen said Thursday.
“They say it may be too early; in our process, and we really need to identify what the need is going to be, that we are really interested, but we are just trying to make it through the day.”
Government relief for the homeless community in Clallam County has come from a $433,000 COVID-19-related state Department of Commerce grant to provide housing, which will likely be at the Port of Port Angeles’ giant 1010 Building.
County Commissioner Mark Ozias signed a contract with the agency Thursday afternoon to receive the funds, Commissioner Randy Johnson said Thursday afternoon while touring the building.
“The money is a go,” Johnson said, adding he expects the facility to be in operation by mid-April.
The grant will be administered by Clallam County in conjunction with Serenity House of Clallam County.
It will pay for leasing space for homeless people who can’t maintain the 6-foot social distancing threshold to prevent the spread of the virus at the Serenity House shelter three blocks east of the 1010 building, and for people showing the respiratory and feverish symptoms of the infection who don’t need hospitalizaton.
Serenity House Executive Director Doc Robinson said he expects at least 60 people will stay at the new, temporary shelter with a maximum of 80-100.
“If we didn’t do this, we’d be putting people on the street right away,” Robinson said.
Five cases of the unique coronavirus have been reported in North Olympic Peninsula residents, four in Jefferson County residents in recent weeks and one in a Clallam County man in his 60s, the county’s first, that was reported Wednesday.
All five cases are presumed by health officials to have originated from out-of-county sources which, they say, means that community transmission has not yet hit the North Olympic Peninsula.
There have been 140 tests conducted of Clallam County residents, with 54 coming back negative, 85 pending, and the one positive case already reported, it was announced at the regular 10 a.m. COVID-19 briefing of health officials and first responders.
In Jefferson County, 289 tests were conducted as of Thursday, with 103 coming back negative, 182 pending and the four positive results.
There is a global shortage of the swab-and-vial test kits, Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said Thursday.
Jefferson County has been able to test twice as many patients as Clallam County, which has more than twice the population, by testing people with general symptoms such as respiratory problems and fevers, he said.
But tests now will be limited to patients such as health-care workers exposed to the virus, sick people with risk factors, people in long-term care facilities and first responders, he said.
“We are not going to have enough test kits, and the labs are backed up,” Locke said.
Earlier this week, Clallam County Health Officer Allison Berry Unthank said the county was down to 160 test kits and would not receive any more until the county had its first COVID-19 case.
Late Thursday, the state Department of Health announced it had received an additional 8,000 COVID-19 test kits from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, but the tests — and more protective equipment for health care workers — will be distributed in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, the state said.
On the Peninsula, health care workers and first responders continue to grapple with a shortage of test kits and personal protection equipment such as surgical masks sorely needed by health care workers and first responders
The dearth has prompted an outpouring of donations of masks from construction workers to the Port of Port Angeles, and offers to make cloth masks from community members and organizations such as Shipley Center in Sequim.
Michael Smith, Shipley Center executive director, said at the briefing that a half-dozen women affiliated with the center wanted to make cloth masks that health officials have said must be fashioned from two-ply flannel or two-ply, quilt-weight cotton.
Dr. Katrina Weller of Olympic Medical Center said at the briefing that the cloth masks are about 50 percent to 60 percent effective against the droplets that transmit the virus, while surgical masks are about 70 percent effective.
“Only use a home-made one if there is no other choice, because 50 to 60 percent is better than zero,” Weller said.
Clallam County is developing a 2-1-1 line for information about COVID-19 that should be set up by today, Undersheriff Ron Cameron said.
Forks Community Hospital’s Dr. Kirk Cole said a screening location for hospital patients has been set up at the hospital’s Bogachiel Clinic, while city Attorney-Planner Rod Fleck said the city is working on establishing a location to isolate COVID-19 patients at the hospital’s direction.
Locke said young people who think they are not susceptible to the disease and don’t practice social distancing may not realize that while they might not die from it, older residents and those at risk may catch it, and for them, it could be fatal.
According to the CDC, 29 percent of COVID-19 cases have occurred in the 20-44 age group.
“It’s extremely important that people take social distancing seriously,” Locke said.
“It may be that this is our best chance to slow this down.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].