PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County officials are hoping they could receive a waiver by early next week if they file an application with the state to move into Phase 2 of the governor’s four-phase reopening plan.
Jefferson is one of 10 counties the state gave the option to apply for a waiver for COVID-19 restrictions on businesses.
Nine other counties have received those waivers while Jefferson County has taken a slower, more deliberate approach.
County commissioners are expected to vote Friday whether to send an application to the state.
Dr. Tom Locke, the county health officer, said the state has been responding very quickly to other counties’ waiver applications. He pointed out the coming Memorial Day weekend with a Monday being a holiday, but he added the state has been working through holidays through the COVID-19 crisis.
“The turnaround so far has been very quick,” Locke said.
Working in the county’s favor has been the lack of many new cases lately. One was added to Jefferson County’s total over the weekend to give the county 30 COVID-19 cases, but it is a person living in Arizona who contracted the virus in Arizona in late March.
Their official county of residence is Jefferson, so they have been included in the county’s total.
“The transmission is incredibly low in Jefferson County right now,” Locke said. “We should be picking up cases, and we’re not. That’s good news. It’s sets the stage for our reopening plan.”
The county has a series of meetings scheduled this week regarding the waiver. The first is at 5 p.m. today with the county commissioners, the county board of health, the Port of Port Townsend, the Jefferson County PUD and the Port Townsend City Council.
The county board of health will discuss the waiver at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, and the county commissioners will discuss the waiver beginning at 1:30 p.m. The special meeting of the commissioners is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. Friday.
All of the meetings can be viewed at www.tinyurl.com/jeffcomeetings.
There were no new cases in Clallam County over the weekend as the county remained at 21 positive cases.
Clallam County Health Officer Allison Unthank said she anticipates the county will be able to move to Phase 2 by June 1. The Phase 1 restrictions are set to end May 31.
Unthank said she hasn’t heard from state officials yet if the entire state will move to Phase 2 on June 1, although that was the preliminary schedule set weeks ago. Phase 2 would allow the limited reopening of some businesses, such as some restaurants, hair and nail salons, among others.
“If the state isn’t ready, is it possible for the region (Kitsap, Jefferson and Clallam counties) to be able to do that? I’m recommending that we do,” she said. “I think we’ll be ready. I’m hoping the state will be, too.”
In her Monday update, Unthank stressed being outdoors and keeping 6 feet of distance from people is very low risk and that people shouldn’t be stressing about visitors returning to the area with parks and fishing reopening.
“If you want to go on a hike, go on a hike,” she said. “If you walk by someone briefly who has come from Seattle, basically no risk to you. If you want to go fishing and someone is out there fishing and is from Seattle, also basically no risk to you, as long as you keep your distance and wash your hands,” she said.
Unthank said people are wanting to socialize with others again. She said she isn’t condoning that necessarily, but there are safe ways to do it.
“If you’re going to do that, what would be a safer interaction is meeting outside at a distance with someone you know and have that be very few people,” Unthank said. “Don’t, on the other hand, go to Issaquah to spend the weekend with your mom. That is not safe. That is actually a way that a lot of folks have gotten this virus.
“These cases, by and large, picked up COVID-19 from their family,” she said.