Jefferson County eligible for some early reopening

Clallam County not on list

Jefferson County is one of 10 in the state that is eligible to apply for moving on to Phase 2 in reopening some businesses after closures due to COVID-19 precautions.

Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County Health officer, said that the waiver would allow more businesses to open before May 31.

If the county health officer believes that it is safe to do so to loosen some of the phase 1 restrictions, an application can be made by the county to the state department of health, Locke said.

“The evidence would have to support that it wouldn’t have any negative effect and drive transmission,” he added.

Jefferson was named one of the counties in Gov. Jay Inslee’s order issued Friday. Eligible counties must have had no positive cases within the last three weeks and have a population of less than 50,000.

The county’s population in 2019 was 32,221, according to a U.S. Census estimate, and it’s last confirmed case of COVID-19 was on April 9.

Clallam County — which had an estimated population of 77,331 in 2019 and which has had cases of the virus confirmed within the past three weeks — was not among the counties listed as eligible.

In addition to Jefferson, counties on the list are Grays Harbor, Columbia, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Skamania, Wahkiakum, Kittitas and Ferry.

Locke said Saturday he will tell Jefferson County commissioners Monday morning on how the county can apply for a loosening of some of the Phase 1 restrictions.

One issue is that county officials need to decide which businesses could be safely reopened without increasing the risk of spreading COVID-19.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases held steady at 46 total cases on the North Olympic Peninsula on Saturday.

Thirteen patients have recovered in Clallam County and 26 patients have recovered in Jefferson County, officials said.

As of Saturday, there were 18 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Clallam County. A total of 1,258 tests had been conducted, with 1,210 returned negative and 30 tests pending, for a total “positivity percentage” of about 1.4 percent — those found to have the disease, said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer at the Friday morning briefing.

As of Saturday, there were 28 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Jefferson County, where a new case has not been confirmed for more than three weeks (the last reported case was on April 9). A total of 845 tests have been completed, with 815 returned negative and two tests pending for a total percentage of about 3.3 percent found to have the disease, according to Jefferson County Public Health.

The test positivity percentage better reflects how much of the community may be infected verses the pure case numbers, Unthank said.

Tuesday marks the start of some of the outdoor restrictions being lifted, such as some of the state parks and recreational fishing and golfing opportunities will reopen.

Inslee has extended his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order through May 31. He eased restrictions on construction last week.

Health officials officials are preparing for a possible uptick in cases as more testing becomes available and more people start moving around again.

Both counties are now able to test all patients showing symptoms of COVID-19.

To be tested, Clallam County patients need to call their primary care providers while Jefferson County residents need to call the COVID-19 testing hotline at 360-344-3094.

People must call ahead to be tested.

A Clallam County resident who does not have a primary care provider can call a walk-in clinic to set up a testing appointment, Unthank said.

“Please do not (just) walk into these clinics,” Unthank said. “If you might have COVID-19, that could be very dangerous. You could potentially expose other people.

“So call ahead, and they will facilitate getting you tested safely.

“We do want anyone in this county with symptoms to get tested.”

The Center for Disease Control says a person with a cough and shortness of breath/difficulty breathing or with a combination of two or more of a fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell may have COVID-19.

Insurance fees have been waived for COVID-19 testing. For those without insurance, Unthank and her team are seeking a grant to cover fees associated with the testing; until a grant is received, Unthank encourages people to call the clinic and discuss payment options.

A concern for officials is that on Tuesday, some of the state parks and recreational fishing and hunting will re-open and they’re expecting out-of-county visitors to start to appear at those areas, Unthank said.

“Even if they say to recreate in your local area, we know that’s not going to one-hundred percent happen,” Unthank said. “There are probably going to be more people around; some of those people are probably sick with COVID-19.

“Please be kind to the visitors, but give them a little bit of space. Don’t touch the tourists. We don’t want to spread COVID-19 here as much as we can.”

Locke echoed the concerns over travel.

“People have had a lot of practise” in engaging in healthy habit, such as vigorous hand-washing and physical distancing. “If people don’t relax, they should be fine,” Locke said.

“Our bigger concern is opening parks and recreation could encourage travel,” Locke said.

In response to the increased testing, Clallam County has added 40 volunteer contact tracers, who will be able to quickly respond to new cases to help stop the potential spread of the virus, Unthank said.

Re-opening of businesses and other things will be a phased process and the counties have been communicating with the state on how that process will work, she said.

Increased testing has been a long process for the counties, but the situation is getting better.

With increased testing, more cases are expected to be confirmed, Unthank said.

“In one of our recent cases, her only symptoms were headache and a sore throat, so she wouldn’t have met prior testing criteria,” she said.

The shortage of testing kits has improved and Locke expects more increased testing to start soon.

“Prospects for expanded testing are looking better than they have in recent history,” Locke said Friday.

Locke also said that as the number of new cases has tailed off, this has given Jefferson County the opportunity to start opening up its regular health department services such as vaccinations and family planning.

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Sport Editor Pierre LaBossiere can be reached at [email protected].

Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at [email protected].

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