Four new cases of virus confirmed in Clallam County

Health officials discuss schools reopening

Clallam County health officials reported four new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the North Olympic Peninsula’s case total since March to 122.

Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank reported the new cases after a Board of Health meeting Tuesday afternoon.

The new cases involved a teen who was exposed outside of the county and three adults — two women and one man — who were close contacts of recent cases, Unthank said.

Clallam County had gone four days without a new case until Tuesday.

“We’re starting to see a small curve back down,” Unthank told the Board of Health.

The new cases raised Clallam County’s case total to 72.

Jefferson County’s case total remained at 50 on Tuesday for a sixth consecutive day.

“Things are holding stable,” Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said in Tuesday interview.

“We’re not sure of the significance of this, but every day we don’t have a new case is a welcome kind of thing.”

Schools

Locke said he met with Jefferson County school district superintendents in a video conference Tuesday to discuss plans for the 2020-21 school year.

“It’s a very volatile situation right now,” Locke said.

“We’re planning for school openings, but we’re not sure we’re going to be able to control the prevalence of infection in the community that will really allow the schools to open.”

The Port Angeles and Port Townsend school districts have approved preliminary plans that would have students split their time between in-classroom and remote instruction.

“The schools are sort of doing everything they can to prepare for reopening, but the decisive thing is going to be how much infection there is in the community at large,” Locke said.

“If there’s too much community transmission going on, opening the schools will amplify that, but if we can keep the level in the community down, we think we can safely reopen schools,” Locke added.

“So we’re right at kind of a tipping point on that issue.”

Phases

Clallam and Jefferson counties are each in Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase reopening plan. Inslee has put a hold on variance applications because of increasing COVID-19 transmission statewide.

Absent the current pause, counties must have fewer than 25 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population to apply for the next phase.

A recent spike in Clallam County cases related to Fourth of July gatherings would prevent Clallam County from applying for a Phase 3 variance.

“Our current rate is about 30 per 100,000,” Unthank told the Board of Health on Tuesday.

“It was at 35 per 100,000 when we had that rapid rise in cases.”

Unthank said she would likely recommend a modified Phase 3 variance application when Clallam County’s rate of infection drops below 25 per 100,000.

“For instance, the movie theater with reasonable spacing actually could be a safe option when we have an option for a modified Phase 3,” Unthank said in the Board of Health meeting.

“But things like bars are really unlikely to be safe for quite some time, and so I would be less likely to include that in modified Phase 3 when the time comes.

“We’re not there yet,” she added.

Unthank said school reopenings are not part of the state’s four-phase reopening plan.

“We’re really moving towards considering schools like essential industries,” Unthank said.

“Schools really are a critical part of the functioning of our society for a wide variety of reasons.”

Locke said it was “too early to tell” whether schools would be open for in-person instruction in the fall.

“If we continue at the current state trend that we’re on, it’s not going to be possible to open schools,” Locke said.

“So we have to improve things from where they are right now.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].

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