Jefferson County to consider state waiver

Officials may go to phase two with nine other counties

Jefferson County officials are examining state guidelines on how to apply to lift some of the stay-home restrictions that were put in place as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s a complicated process that will require approval from the state Department of Health, said Dr. Tom Locke, the county health officer.

“It’s a multi-step process driven by data,” said Locke, who added the state timeline is unclear. “The health officer will make recommendations based on science more than economics. I’m not sure how long the state part of it will take.”

Yet Locke said the restrictions won’t be lifted right away.

The Board of Jefferson County Commissioners will hear a presentation on the state’s proposed waiver today at 9:45 a.m., and the county is expected to hold a special meeting Thursday to discuss the waiver.

Today’s update can be watched online at www.tinyurl.com/JeffCOVID.

Jefferson County was one of 10 rural counties statewide to be given approval from Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday to apply for waivers from the first phase of restrictions included in the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order.

Jefferson County was eligible to apply because it has fewer than 50,000 people and has not had a new COVID-19 case in more than three weeks. The last reported COVID-19 case in the county was April 9.

Clallam County was not included in the waiver process because it had new cases reported as recently as late last week.

Jefferson County’s total number of reported cases through the weekend was 28, and Clallam remained at 18, health officials said.

Outside of the 10 identified rural counties, the governor’s stay-home order will remain in place through May 31.

One change for Clallam County this week will be the opening of some parks and recreation areas on Tuesday, and the opening of golf and some recreational fishing.

Clallam County will likewise have a COVID-19 briefing today at 10 a.m. It can be watched online.

Phase one

The governor’s phase one restrictions included the statewide closure of businesses deemed “non-essential.”

Jefferson County could conceivably move toward some phase two openings, which may include: “new construction, some manufacturing, restaurants under 50 percent capacity, hair and nail salons, barbers, real estate, professional services, housecleaning” and some others, according to the state.

Locke said Jefferson County can’t skip past phase two restrictions and go to phase three openings — restaurants over 75 percent capacity, bars under 25 percent, movie theaters, indoor gyms under 50 percent, libraries and government, including others.

Locke interpreted the governor’s order to mean the county can take a “pick-and-choose” approach to which businesses can be safely reopened without causing a surge in new COVID-19 cases.

“We’re going to move as expeditiously as possible, but it’s a delicate balancing act — do we think this is safe?” Locke said.

Locke also said the county has come a long way in the past three weeks during the lull in new confirmed cases to ramp up its testing capacity in case there is an increase, an event he acknowledged could happen as restrictions are lifted.

“We understand that the success for reopening is to detect [new cases] and respond quickly,” he said.

He also pointed out that the process of reopening economic activity is something Jefferson County will need to do regardless of other activities. The county is just getting an opportunity to do it a little earlier than the rest of the state, he said.

“This head start gives us an opportunity to do the work we know we have to do anyway,” Locke said. “A lot of places in the country are showing us how not to do it. And the consequences are inevitable.”

Clallam County Undersheriff Ron Cameron said deputies have been patrolling area parks during the past few weeks and informing people using the parks about the state closures.

He said the county “has been talking to folks,” but trying not to take a heavy-handed law enforcement approach.

Cameron said he expects those patrols to continue after Tuesday to make sure people are maintaining physical distance.

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