PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County has submitted an application to enter Phase 3 of the state’s Safe Start reopening plan, but county officials expect the state to take several days before a decision is reached.
Meanwhile, the Clallam County Health Department plans to conduct 150 tests per day for the next three days to measure the extent of a possible COVID-19 outbreak emanating from Olympic Medical Center and a separate site.
The county health department called both investigations outbreaks in a Monday press release. Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank said that is a technical term when there are two or more positives cases in a specific site in a short period of time.
Three positive cases from two sites were identified during the weekend, although health officials declined to name the second location.
“We do anticipate more cases,” Unthank said. “We do want people to take this seriously.”
The Board of Jefferson County Commissioners had a special meeting Monday to discuss the application. Although District 2 Commissioner David Sullivan moved to remain in Phase 2, fellow commissioners Greg Brotherton and Kate Dean instructed the county’s public health department to move forward with the application.
Jefferson County will enter Phase 3 once the state approves. However, the state has been taking more than a week to approve applications, such as one from neighboring Kitsap County, which submitted a Phase 3 application June 19. As of Monday, Kitsap County was still awaiting a decision.
Phase 3 currently is the furthest a county can go in the state’s four-part Safe Start plan, as Gov. Jay Inslee announced Saturday that applications for Phase 4 have been suspended due to the state’s current rise in the number of COVID-19 cases.
While other counties such as Yakima have seen a significant increase, Jefferson County has reported eight confirmed cases in June, including four asymptomatic patients who were tested before a medical or dental procedure, said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.
The other four had mild cases, Locke said.
No additional positives were reported in either county Monday, keeping both counties at 38 and a total of 76 on the North Olympic Peninsula.
Jefferson County reports 31 patients have recovered. There have been 2,932 negative tests and a total positive rate of 1.3 percent, according to Jefferson Public Health.
In Phase 3, some recreational facilities such as gyms and pools can reopen. Restaurants can open to 75 percent capacity, and bars can open at 25 percent capacity. Movie theaters can reopen at 50 percent capacity. Libraries and museums also can reopen.
While Phase 3 allows for restaurants and bars to increase capacity, Jefferson County commissioners said they still have to follow social distancing and sanitation requirements, so some may not be able to increase capacity due to space.
Commissioners may revisit indoor gatherings up to 50 people, an activity allowed in Phase 3. They said Monday they had concerns about the number of people and they may discuss limiting what’s allowed either through the Board of Health or a directive from Locke to prevent outbreak scenarios.
While Phase 3 allows for gatherings of up to 50 people indoors, officials advise against them.
“We’re not encouraging that all gatherings from now on be with 49 people,” Locke said. “The risk goes up with each person.
“There are situations that five people could be doing that are very high risk, and there are things that 49 people are doing that could be very low risk. So it’s all in the behavior.”
Some of the important behaviors Locke outlined included wearing a face mask, continuing to practice social distance and maintaining proper sanitation protocols, to help limit the spread of COVID-19.
The Clallam County Board of Health was going to consider today applying for Phase 3. However, in light of the two outbreaks that are being investigated, Unthank said she will recommend the county not apply for Phase 3 until at least July 21.
Clallam County is tracing contacts for people who may have come into contact with any of the recent cases. Two OMC employees tested positive, and health officials said contacts include additional OMC employees and other patients.
Officials are tracing back to two weeks ago, when the virus may have been present.
Unthank she said couldn’t identify the second site with the possible outbreak or what industry it’s in. OMC itself announced it was the site of two positive tests.
Part of Unthank’s recommendation to wait about three weeks to apply for Phase 3 is so the county can get a better picture of how extensive these outbreaks might be.
Unthank stressed it is safe for people to go to OMC. So far, any spread of the virus has been between employees, she said.
“We do believe patients are safe to get medical care,” she said. “The staff there is excellent at using personal protective equipment.”
Darryl Wolfe, OMC’s interim chief executive officer, also stressed it’s safe for patients to continue getting care at the facility.
He said he understands some people might be concerned.
“Since late February, from the beginning, our key focus has been to keep patients as safe as can be,” Wolfe said. “That’s why you haven’t seen patient transmission rates very high. Our patient transmission rate is basically zero.
“Do not delay care,” he said. “Our fear is people will delay care. People are nervous. We’re here to care for them,” he said.
Wolfe also said people can expect updates all week from OMC.
Unthank added it’s more important than ever that people wear a mask and maintain physical distancing.
“It is critically important that the citizens of Clallam County understand that COVID-19 is here in our community,” Unthank said. “We all must exercise caution by keeping a safe physical distance and wearing masks to keep our community safe.”
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 360-385-2335, ext. 5.
Sports Editor Pierre LaBossiere contributed to this report. He can be reached by email at [email protected].