To the confusion of local health officers on the North Olympic Peninsula, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday afternoon that the Puget Sound and West regions can move to Phase 2 of the “Roadmap to Recovery” plan, while the region containing Clallam and Jefferson counties can not.
The Northwest Region of Clallam, Jefferson, Kitsap and Mason does not meet the now-required three out of four metrics to move forward into the phase that would allow the resumption of limited indoor dining and fitness centers at 25 percent capacity and other activities.
Health officers Dr. Allison Berry of Clallam County and Dr. Tom Locke of Jefferson County don’t understand the reasoning behind the choice to move the Puget Sound region forward specifically, since King, Snohomish and Pierce counties — which make up the Puget Sound region — are three out of the four primary drivers of the state’s outbreak, with the fourth being Yakima County.
“That doesn’t make any darn sense. That’s insane,” Berry said.
“It’s very frustrating because we have historically done much better than the Puget Sound region, and we continue to do much better than the Puget Sound region.”
Said Locke: “That is crazy from an epidemiological standpoint. If they open to Phase 2, they will probably be open for two weeks or less, whereas the Olympic Peninsula has the lowest rates in the state.
“That’s not to say we don’t have a serious problem, but our serious problem is about one-fourth of what everyone else is dealing with,” he added. “It makes no sense to me.”
Inslee announced in a press conference that regions no longer have to meet all four metrics to move forward into the next phase and that data will now be collected every two weeks, not every week.
The metrics to move into Phase 2 include a 10 percent decreasing trend in case rates, a 10 percent decrease in coronavirus hospital admission rates, Intensive Care Unit (ICU) occupancy that’s less than 90 percent and a test positivity rate that’s less than 10 percent.
Now, regions must meet only three of the four to move into Phase 2.
According to the state’s Roadmap dashboard, the Northwest region meets the metrics for ICU and test positivity but does not meet the case rate or hospital admissions requirement, with a 20 percent increase between Jan. 3-16 in case rates and a 16 percent increase in hospitalizations from Jan. 10-23.
Locke said that some state data has been unreliable, with the percent positivity metric —which the Northwest region is meeting — is known to be inaccurate at the state level verses county, while the hospitalizations should be very accurate, due to the hospital systems’s reporting system.
“My fundamental criticism of this system is that percentage decrease is much less important than absolute numbers,” Locke said. “Using the case per 100,000, if you go from 800 to 700 cases per 100,000, that’s a 10 percent drop but you’re still in trouble.
“We go from 50 to 100 cases per 100,000, that’s a 100 percent increase but it’s not even a problem. That’s just week-to-week variation. Percentage changes doesn’t really tell you what the risk is.”
Said Berry: “When you see that kind of movement in an area where you know there are more cases than in an area like this, it does beg the question of whether or not the metrics are accurately measuring the reality on the ground, because that’s really the goal.
“We do want the phases to mirror our existing reality…if the Puget Sound region is moving forward ahead of Clallam, Jefferson, Kitsap and Mason, that suggests the metrics aren’t really measuring the reality.
“It’s also frustrating because if it had been three metrics before, we would already be in Phase 2, and then they move the goal posts.”
On Thursday, Clallam County confirmed three new cases of COVID-19, while Jefferson County confirmed five new cases, according to county public health data.
One case in Clallam is a household member of a prior confirmed case and the remaining cases on the Peninsula were still under investigation Thursday afternoon, health officers said.
So far this month, Clallam County has confirmed 180 cases, about 19.6 percent of the 919 it has confirmed since March, according to Clallam County Public Health data.
Jefferson County has confirmed 75 cases of COVID-19, about 25.4 percent of the 295 it has confirmed since March, according to Jefferson County Public Health data.
Forty-four COVID-19 cases were active as of Thursday in Clallam County, and four people were hospitalized with one in the ICU.
Jefferson County had 18 active cases.
The test positivity on the Peninsula — the percentage of tests returned positive — was 3.3 percent in Clallam County for Jan. 10-24, and 2.37 percent in Jefferson County for Jan. 18-24.
Clallam County had a case rate of 92 per 100,000 population for the two weeks prior as of Thursday.
Jefferson County’s case rate was at about 72.10 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Saturday.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected].