Health officials in favor of fall opening for schools

Phase 3 discussions to develop this week

North Olympic Peninsula health officers support the idea of sending students back to brick-and-mortar schools this fall.

On Thursday, state Superintendent Chris Reykdal announced that he expects schools to be able to open in fall with added health and safety protocols. Gov. Jay Inslee ordered the schools closed in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I think it’s very possible to do school safely,” said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.

“I’ve been working very closely with the superintendents throughout this process and will be working more and more as we get closer to fall, to make sure that we can do school as safely as possible with in-person instruction.

“I think we can do that and we’ll keep working on those plans as we get closer to fall,” Unthank continued.

“School is a very important place for children. It’s very important for them to learn, but it’s also where a lot of kids get services; it’s where they get counseling, it’s where they get food and we really need that in place so they can continue to receive those benefits from schools.”

Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer, during an interview Friday agreed with Unthank about the importance of in-person schooling.

“I think it’s important that we figure out how to do this, so we help kids resume their education and we keep everyone safe; both the students and the teachers and the staff,” Locke said.

“It’ll be challenging, but we’ve put a lot of work into it and I think it’s something that we can do. It’s going to be different than school prior to the pandemic but I think it’s absolutely necessary.”

As of Saturday, confirmed cases of COVID-19 remained at 60 on the Peninsula, with 29 cases confirmed in Clallam County, with 26 cases recovered and 31 confirmed cases in Jefferson County, with 30 cases recovered, officials said.

The earliest Jefferson County could have become eligible to enter Phase 3 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start” plan was Saturday.

Locke plans to recommend a full Phase 3 opening at the Board of Health meeting at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.

Phase 3 includes more restaurant and store capacity, libraries and museums opening and other activities. The full list of activities can be found at www.tinyurl.com/PDN-Safe-Start.

Both counties are now in Phase 2 with the exception of allowing overnight camping. However Unthank plans to recommend to the Clallam County Board of Health at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday that camping now be allowed.

If approved, that will trigger Jefferson County to open camping as well, because the Jefferson Board of Health decided to tie its opening to Clallam County.

Unthank is eyeing Phase 3, but is wanting to see if the county has any new confirmed cases of COVID-19, before making a recommendation.

“This virus has a 14-day incubation period, so we need that third week to see how we’re doing,” Unthank said.

“So I can’t say for sure yet. A lot of people want to know and say, ‘are we going to Phase 3?’ and the truth is, I don’t have that data yet.

“As long as we keep our data low and we see just a couple cases here and there, we should be able to move forward to Phase 3 even by [June 22]. But if we don’t, if we see these kind of escalating cases, then we need to wait until those cases slow down and for us to be able to safely move forward.”

Unthank urges anyone who is sick or has symptoms of COVID-19 to get tested.

Testing in Clallam County is being done at primary care clinics, walk-in clinics and tribal clinics.

In Jefferson County, a drive-through system is in place. People need to call 360-344-3094 to schedule a testing appointment.

________

Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached by email at zjablonski@peninsuladailynews.com.

Sports Editor Pierre LaBossiere contributed to this story.

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