PORT TOWNSEND — The Board of Jefferson County Commissioners unanimously approved moving forward on a variance application for Phase 3 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start plan.
The application will be submitted June 29.
Monday’s action was the final step short of submission for the county to move into Phase 3 after county health officer Dr. Tom Locke recommended the county move forward and the county Board of Health voted to submit the application for a full Phase 3 variance during its meeting last Thursday.
While the application is slated to be submitted next Monday, the state is taking about two to three days to approve the applications. If Jefferson County sees a significant rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases this week, county officials could call a special meeting to reevaluate their application.
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.
As of Monday, there was one new confirmed case of COVID-19, an asymptomatic patient found because the person was tested before a medical procedure.
There are now 34 confirmed cases in Jefferson County, with 30 patients recovered and a less than 1.5 percent positive rate, Locke said Monday afternoon.
“We’re expecting more and more of these, as a lot more people are being tested before surgery or dental procedures,” Locke said. “Asymptomatic cases are still contagious, so we evaluate them and include them in our case count.”
A noticeable uptick in cases as a result of the numerous “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations has not happened so far, Locke said.
“If we were to see a big surge in cases, we would’ve seen it by now,” he said during the commissioners briefing Monday morning.
Locke is currently working with Jefferson County Emergency Management to measure how well customers are following the county’s face mask mandate. He also is talking with the business community because there have been complaints about people not following the directive and either forgetting to wear a face mask in businesses or refusing to, Locke said during an interview Monday afternoon.
Employees are required to wear a face mask by the state, and that measure is overseen by the department of Labor & Industries, Locke said.
If it is found that a large number of people in the county are not following the directive, Locke could implement punitive measures such as fines and jail time for refusing to wear a face covering, but he said he wants to avoid that if possible.
“We want to try all non-coercive things first,” he said. “That has been my intention from the beginning, that we would only go to criminal or financial penalties after we have exhausted all our other options.
“I really believe that we should not have to punish people into respecting the health of others, and I’ve yet to be convinced that people can’t be persuaded to do the right thing.”
Currently, the only county in Washington that has punitive measures for people not wearing masks is San Juan County, where officials can fine people up to $1,000 and a judge could issue jail time, Locke said.
Also in discussion is a possible statewide masking order that Inslee may implement if cases continue to rise like they are in Oregon and California, Locke said.
“I need people to take this seriously,” Locke said. “Masking is not a casual thing that people can do or not do as they feel like on a given day.
“At this point, this is one of our essential health strategies, and people need to understand why, and then they need to do it. A high percentage of people need to wear masks or we will see increased transmission,” Locke continued.
“I’m not trying to pit people against each other, I’m trying to unite people against a common enemy, and that enemy is coronavirus, not each other.”
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 360-385-2335, ext. 5.