COVID-19 cases make inroads at Clallam County courthouse

DCD closed; court short-staffed

PORT ANGELES — One Clallam County office is short-staffed and another partially quarantined as the two courthouse departments respond to individual cases of COVID-19, county officials said.

The positive test by an employee in the Department of Community Development’s planning and building divisions will keep the agency’s section of the office closed until it reopens Monday, Oct. 5, DCD Director Mary Ellen Winborn said Friday.

A second county worker also tested positive who works for Superior Court, which has administrative and court clerk offices that remain open, Deputy Health and Human Services Director Kevin LoPiccolo said Friday.

LoPiccolo said the extent of COVID-19 exposure in Superior Court did not warrant shutting down the office in a manner similar to DCD.

He said the employees who tested positive had not been hospitalized and both are in isolation.

Superior Court Judges Simon Barnhart, Brent Basden and Lauren Erickson, all elected officials, “are fine,” Barnhart said Friday.

They have been adjudicating cases, Erickson from the bench and Basden and Barnhart remotely via Zoom.

“We are all performing at full capacity subject to the limitations of some quarantine protocols,” Barnhart said.

Barnhart said he was under a 14-day quarantine through Tuesday.

Basden would not comment Friday, and Erickson did not return a call for comment.

The DCD divisions shut down Monday in a large first-floor office that houses environmental health and the public works road department, which reopened Tuesday.

From 6-10 DCD employees were quarantined last week and will continue in that status until Oct. 5, Winborn said.

She said a building inspector is doing inspections while a plan reviewer conducts inspections and plan-reviews in the first-floor quarters.

DCD Administrative Assistant Tami Breitbach said in a 10:11 a.m. Friday email that the DCD’s planning and building divisions would be closed to the public until Monday “due to a recent COVID-19 response.”

The office houses more than 20 DCD, environmental health, and public works road department employees in a large common area separated by open cubicles with some enclosed offices for supervisory staff.

It had been closed last Monday because of “a COVID-19 related exposure,” according to a sign posted on the office door last Monday notifying the public that the entire office would reopen last Tuesday.

The positive COVID-19 test of a Superior Court was recorded before the DCD positive test, Winborn said. Barnhart ends his 14-day quarantine Tuesday and Winborn and other DCD employees Sunday.

County Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank notified county employees in an email Monday that two cases were diagnosed among unspecified county staff.

“The first case has been fully investigated and all of those who were exposed have been notified and received quarantine instructions,” she said.

“The second case is currently being investigated by the department of public health and all of those who were exposed will be notified and receive quarantine instructions by the end of the business day [Monday].

“These cases are unrelated and there is no evidence of transmission in county facilities at this time. There is additionally no evidence of any public exposures related to these cases at this time.”

Unthank did not return calls for comment Friday about the cases.

LoPicollo said the first-floor office was closed at 9 a.m. Monday after he confirmed the employee tested positive for the coronavirus.

“The initial sign read it would reopen tomorrow because contract tracers needed to get in touch with staff between roads and environmental health as well as all the people in the building department,” he said.

“We identified 10 people to get tested.

“We reopened [the office] Tuesday primarily to roads and environmental health.”

Winborn said she did not know that the sign posted last Monday said her office would reopen Tuesday until she was told by a reporter.

“Nobody called me,” she said.

Winborn said DCD, which has employees on the basement floor of the courthouse, “never reopened” in the first-floor shared office, where it is located across the hallway from the county commissioners.

Environmental health public works employees returned Tuesday to the office after it was sanitized.

There was no transmission between the employees in DCD and Superior Court who tested positive for the coronavirus, Winborn said.

“Really, if I didn’t believe in masks, I’m a believer in them now, and washing your hands,” she said.

“They obviously work, based on what I know.”

She said contact tracing of everyone who had contact with the DCD employee has been completed.

“They got that done pretty fast,” she said.

County Administrator Rich Sill said he and Unthank are upgrading a county “pandemic policy” as an “outgrowth” of the onset of COVID-19

“We have a pandemic policy that we’ve had for years, but specific to COVID and the transmission pieces, that’s what we’re working on most recently.”

The policy was last updated in 2012.

Sill said it focuses on commissioners declaring a state of emergency, and screening and testing protocols that have been followed during the current pandemic, but not with transmission of a virus with such a high volatility.

Sill said he gets his “direction” on how county officials should respond to the pandemic from Health and Human Services.

“We’ve been working under the direct supervision of the Department of Health and Human Services, which is giving us that direction,” he said.

DCD building inspections will continue, by calling 360-417-2518. DCD email inquiries can be sent to [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected]

________

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected] peninsuladailynews.com.

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