County governments aim for return to hybrid meetings

As COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations decline and masking mandate lifting dates are set, Clallam and Jefferson county commissions are beginning the shift to conducting hybrid public meetings after two years of virtual.

Clallam County commissioners announced on Feb. 14 that they will move to a hybrid model of public meetings on March 14.

“In consultation with Dr. Berry and working with our staff here, we would like to go ahead and affirm that March 14 is our first hybrid meeting,” Commissioner Mark Ozias said.

Ozias also confirmed that Clallam County will always have a virtual option for its meetings as it creates more opportunities for public attendance at county meetings.

The county has been working since December to improve its video and audio technology in the county conference room where public meetings are held and streamed to the public.

Jefferson County commissioners also are considering the shift to hybrid meetings and plans a study of its technological and space needs to accommodate in-person meetings. No date has been set for its return to hybrid/in-person meetings.

Dwindling hospitalizations were reported across the North Olympic Peninsula on Friday.

A total of five Clallam County residents were reported to be hospitalized with COVID-19 on Friday. Two are at Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles with three in hospitals outside the county. Those three are all in intensive care units.

Jefferson County reported three of its residents in the hospital on Friday. One is in ICU at Jefferson Healthcare in Port Townsend. The other two are in ICUs outside the county.

Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, made note of all the discharges.

“We’ve been seeing a lot of discharges, which is great,” Berry said.

Clallam County added 27 new cases on Friday, bringing its total since the pandemic began from 10, 551 on Thursday to 10,578 on Friday. The county had a case rate of 897 per 100,000 population on Friday, which was up from case rate reported Thursday, 738 cases per 100,000 population. On Wednesday, the case rate was 1,063 per 100,000 population.

Jefferson County, which updates its case rate each Friday, reported a case rate of 618 cases per 100,000 population. Last week, the case rate was 742 cases per 100,000 population.

Jefferson County added 21 new cases bringing its total since the pandemic began from 2,927 on Thursday to 2,948 on Friday.

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 Friday reported 128 people in isolation with active cases, down from 129 reported Thursday.

Clallam County does not report that metric but does report a daily average over the past two weeks.

On its COVID-19 dashboard, Clallam County said on Friday that the average daily number of cases over the past two weeks has been 49. On Thursday that number was 53 and on Wednesday, 58.

No new deaths were reported in either county on Thursday. Clallam County has had 99 residents die of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, while Jefferson County has had 26 residents die of the virus since the pandemic began.

On Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that the mandatory masking mandate will be lifted on March 21.

“We worked with the governor’s office on setting metrics for when it would likely be safe to lift a mask mandate,” said Berry, who was a member of the committee of health officers who advised the governor on this issue.

“Those metrics looked at case rates and hospitalization rates in particular, and then we picked a date based on when we are modeled to hit those metrics,” she continued.

“Some folks are really reassured when we give a date because it gives some certainty that it’s going to go away and some people are nervous because they feel like we’re picking a date out of the hat,” Berry said.

Berry again highlighted the importance of maintaining mask-wearing over the next two weeks and encouraged vaccination to ensure that the Peninsula reaches those ideal metrics for lifting the masking mandate and return to a semi-normal life.

“I think it’s a very reasonable date as long as we continue on our current trajectory,” Berry said.

“So our challenge as a community is to make sure we continue in that positive direction, which means we have to keep our masks on between now and then,” she added.

“I encourage everyone who has not gotten vaccinated to get vaccinated or get their booster if they haven’t already,” Berry said.

“Even after the mandate is revoked we do still recommend that you wear a mask in certain indoor spaces.”

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

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