PORT ANGELES — Clallam County has approved a request to move into the next phase of the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan.
The county Board of Health and three commissioners voted Wednesday to approve Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank’s recommendation to apply for a modified Phase 2 variance.
The one modification is a prohibition on overnight camping at county parks until the rest of the state moves into the second phase of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase “Safe Start” reopening plan.
“In consultation with our neighboring tribes and with many of our citizens, there’s a great deal of concern about stimulating tourism to our area, and one of the primary drivers of tourism to our area is outdoor recreation, and especially camping,” Unthank told the Board of Health.
“So what I am proposing to the board is that we hold on opening overnight camping until overnight camping becomes allowed in the remainder of the state when the state moves to Phase 2.”
If approved by the state Secretary of Health, Clallam County’s Phase 2 variance would take effect Monday.
The Board of Health voted 6-0 to endorse Unthank’s recommendation.
The three county commissioners, all of whom serve on the Board of Health, ratified the action by resolution in a subsequent meeting.
“I’m anxious to get this messaging out to the community,” Board Chairman Mark Ozias said.
No new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Clallam or Jefferson counties on Wednesday.
Jefferson County had 30 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with no deaths attributed to the virus.
Clallam County had 25 confirmed cases with no coronavirus deaths.
“I want to speak to the fact that that is no accident,” Unthank told the county Health board.
“We got to this place by a great deal of effort and a great deal of sacrifice on the part of our citizens, and we will continue to need to put in an incredible amount of effort and sacrifice as we move forward.”
To qualify for an early entry into Phase 2, Clallam County had to show it met specific metrics around COVID-19 testing capacity, personal protective equipment, case investigations, contact tracing and the ability to isolate and quarantine infected patients.
“I completed the application this week, and I believe that we meet all of the criteria now,” Unthank told commissioners.
Unthank said a decision on the variance likely would be made today or Friday.
Jefferson County’s full implementation of Phase 2 is contingent on Clallam and Kitsap counties moving to Phase 2, Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said.
“The supposition is that that would include camping,” Locke said Wednesday.
Locke said he would raise the issue of overnight camping with the Jefferson County Board of Health at its next meeting.
“The whole idea of it is that we wanted camping to open up at the same time on the Olympic Peninsula,” Locke said.
“So if it’s not opening up in Clallam County, it doesn’t make sense to open it in Jefferson.”
The state parks system, which includes several North Olympic Peninsula properties, is outside of county jurisdiction.
Some state parks have reopened for day use only.
“The state has told us they are going to open the state parks for camping when the entire state goes to Phase 2,” Locke said.
“They could change that, of course, but that’s what we were told as of last week.”
Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest officials have been consulting with local governments on the planned reopening of federal campgrounds, Locke said.
“Both the national forest and the national park have been pursuing a policy to wait until the state or relevant counties have opened up before they open camping,” Locke said.
“So they will likely follow the lead of the counties, but they’re not required to because the counties have no authority over the national forest or the national park.
“So, really, the only camping that’s in direct control of county governments is county parks, of which there are a number both in Jefferson and in Clallam County,” Locke added.
State Secretary of Health John Wiesman approved Wednesday new Phase 2 variance applications for Kittitas, Thurston, and Walla Walla counties.
Other counties approved to move into Phase 2, in addition to Jefferson County, are Adams, Asotin, Columbia, Cowlitz, Ferry, Garfield, Grant, Grays Harbor, Island, Lewis, Lincoln, Mason, Pacific, Pend Oreille, San Juan, Skamania, Spokane, Stevens, Wahkiakum and Whitman.
Kitsap and Klickitat counties, like Clallam, are eligible to apply for a Phase 2 variance, state officials said.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at email@example.com.