Canada’s easing of restrictions hopeful sign for Coho ferry

Case rates reportedly continue dropping

The Canadian government’s easing of its testing restrictions on travelers announced Tuesday will encourage more northbound traffic on the Coho ferry, according to Black Ball Ferry co-owner Ryan Malane.

Starting Feb. 28, travelers have the option of using a COVID-19 rapid antigen test rather than a PCR test.

However, that test must be administered by a healthcare entity; at-home testing results will not be accepted.

“It’s a positive step in the right direction, but we still don’t know how these tests can be administered and all the things that go along with it, like what the cost will be and how easily accessible that will be,” said Malane, a co-owner and vice president of marketing for Black Ball Ferry Line.

Additionally, Canada will be easing its “on arrival” testing requirements as well for those who are fully vaccinated.

“This means that travelers arriving in Canada from any country, who qualify as fully vaccinated, will be randomly selected for arrival testing. Travelers selected will also no longer be required to quarantine while awaiting their test results … Unvaccinated travelers will continue to be required to test on arrival, on Day 8, and quarantine for 14 days,” said a Public Health Agency of Canada press release.

The Coho ferry, owned and operated by Black Ball Ferry Line, set sail across the Strait of Juan de Fuca for the first time in 19 months in November and has multiple daily sailings between Port Angeles and Victoria.

“We (Black Ball) haven’t adjusted anything yet, on the public notice side, because we don’t yet have all the details,” Malane said.

“We’ve had some calls into various authorities to try to determine how exactly this will be implemented, but right now, we don’t know exactly what those requirements will be,” he added.

“We hope to know in a day or two.”

Malane said that, since November, most passengers have been coming from Victoria to Port Angeles, primarily due to the prohibitive costs of, and long turnaround times, of PCR tests.

“We have benefited from the federal CERTS (Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services) legislation,” Malane said.

“That has largely been paying our employees during this period of time, and we have committed to sailing during that period of time,” he added.

“The southbound traffic, which benefits Clallam County, has been more robust than the northbound traffic. There haven’t been too many people going into Canada because of that PCR requirement,” Malane said.

“With that lessened to an antigen test, that traffic could improve,” he said.

During the 19-month shutdown, Black Ball furloughed nearly all of its employees due to a near total loss in revenue but continued to pay for medical benefits. According to Clallam County, between March 2020 and August 2021, Black Ball incurred about $8 million in operating expenditures, of which Black Ball was able to secure funding through Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loans totaling about $2 million and a Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) Lifeboat 2 grant provided by the county of $500,000 to partially cover such costs, leaving about $5.5 million in costs for which Black Ball had to rely on its reserves.

It also received $4 million grant in Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services (CERTS) grant in September, as well as $500,000 from the City of Port Angeles in American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds for payroll and benefits.

Metrics on Victoria’s COVID-19 cases were unavailable, but for all of southern Vancouver Island, the case rate as of Tuesday was 3,164 cases per 100,000 population.

Local numbers

Clallam County has updated its COVID-19 case data following a delay in state reporting on Monday.

The county reported on Tuesday 161 new COVID-19 cases — a number that represents cases confirmed on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and some on Tuesday — bringing its total since the pandemic began to 10,477.

The case rate for Clallam County dropped on Tuesday to 1,100 per 100,000 cases from 1,200 per 100,000 reported Friday.

In its weekly case rate report on Friday, Jefferson County’s case rate dropped below 1,000 cases per 100,000 population for the first time since the omicron variant hit in late November. The rate was reported as 742 cases per 100,000. A week earlier, 1,068 cases per 100,000 was reported.

Case rates are the reflection of cases reported over a two-week period. They are computed using a formula based on 100,000 population, even for counties — such as Clallam and Jefferson — that do not have 100,000 population.

Jefferson County on Tuesday continued to report 131 people with COVID-19 in active isolation.

Clallam County does not report that metric but does report a daily average over the past two weeks. That subject has declined from 66 on Friday to 60 on Tuesday.

Jefferson County added 16 more COVID-19 cases, bringing its total since the pandemic began to 2,890 total cases.

“We are seeing improvement nationwide in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths from the virus,” said Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties.

No new deaths from the virus were reported in either county on Tuesday.

Since the pandemic began, 98 Clallam County residents and 26 Jefferson County residents have reportedly died of the virus.

Hospitalizations continued to decline.

Four Jefferson County residents were hospitalized with the virus on Tuesday. Three were in intensive care units (ICUs) with two in regional hospitals outside the county and one in ICU at Jefferson Healthcare in Port Townsend.

Ten Clallam County residents were reported hospitalized on Tuesday. Six were at Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles with three in the ICU. Four more were in ICUs outside the county, including one at Jefferson Healthcare.

Berry addressed the question of when the COVID-19 pandemic will transfer into an endemic disease — an example of which is the flu.

“I think there is a common sentiment that an endemic is mild when really endemic just means it’s here and it’s going to stay with us, and it’s going to be a part of our lives for the long haul,” Berry said.

“So COVID-19 is a severe disease that is going to be with us for quite some time. The key to truly living in an endemic is transitioning from the point to where this virus overwhelms our systems where we see such large outbreaks that we lose critical parts of our society … to a point where enough of us have some level of immunity to reduce severe disease,” she added.

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Reporter Ken Park can be reached at kpark@peninsuladailynews.com.

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