PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County has had its first confirmed case of COVID-19 in a month. The woman in her 90s has been hospitalized in Jefferson Healthcare hospital.
Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer, said the case, the 29th confirmed in Jefferson County, was reported Friday night. Locke said she is in stable condition.
He added that the case, the first to be hospitalized at Jefferson Healthcare, appears to have been locally transmitted.
Jefferson County was one of 10 rural counties given the opportunity by Gov. Jay Inslee’s office to apply for an early waiver from the Phase 1 restrictions, which could allow some businesses in the county to open before the May 31 deadline for moving to Phase 2.
One of the criteria for moving to Phase Two early was a lack of new cases reported for three weeks.
Locke said that at this point, he doesn’t know how the new case might affect Jefferson County’s planned application for a waiver for early reopenings.
Locke said Kittitas County has reported new cases after being named as eligible for early Phase 2 reopening.
He thinks the state is moving to a different methodology. Rather than looking strictly at whether or not counties have had positive cases within the past few of weeks, it is looking at the overall low prevalence of infections in a county — 29 cases out of a population of 32,000, a rate of about 0.09 percent.
Clallam County was not one of the 10 counties included among those that the governor’s office allowed to apply for waivers. Clallam County has a fairly low rate of cases, with only 19 so far, but the county has had some recent cases.
The District 24 delegation wrote a letter to Inslee asking that Clallam be added to the list of counties eigible for applying for an early Phase 2.
Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer, said it’s possible Clallam County could be included in a regional reopening at some point, perhaps along with Kitsap and Jefferson counties.
“There’s been a lot of conversations about it,” she said. “There have been no final decisions.”
Locke said regional reopenings would make sense. He said there could be unintended consequences of individual counties reopening, such as inspiring people to travel long distances for services such as haircuts rather than remaining in their local community.
Unthank also said she understands the frustration in Clallam County the stay-home order and temporary business closures despite the fact that Clallam County has had relatively few cases.
“Because of the age of our community, if we had let COVID-19 run rampant in our county, we would have lost 1,000 of our citizens,” she said. “The reason we did this is so we could keep this to 19 cases.
“It’s a really serious virus.
“The reason we’ve been able to keep it at 19 cases is the incredible work of our health care workers, our first responders, our public health staff and our volunteers and all the people who have done the incredible beautiful work of staying home and not working right now,” Unthank continued.
”We know all of that has been an incredible sacrifice, but that sacrifice has been to save those lives. What we’re really encouraging folks to do is not waste all that has been done,” she said.
Unthank also pointed out that the health of a community and the economy of a community are not mutually exclusive.
“An uncontrolled outbreak destroys the economy, too,” she said. “If you let COVID-19 run through a community, you get similar or more economic destruction because of loss of workforce and because of people’s fears of going out.
“We’ve already lost about 75,000 people in the country to this virus and that’s with what we’ve done so far. If we had let it run in an uncontrolled fashion, it would be shockingly more than that. I don’t like to scare people, but I want people to understand the gravity of the situation,” Unthank said.
PPE, contact tracing
Unthank also reported that Clallam County received a large order of personal protection equipment.
“We have pretty close to all the PPEs that we need,” she said, adding that the county is still in need of more gloves.
Unthank also said the county health department is building up its contact tracing and will be concentrating in the next weeks on working closely with individual businesses to give them guidance on how to operate safely and maintain physical distancing.
“We want to reopen and stay open and the only way we do that is if we don’t have large outbreaks in any of our businesses,” she said.
Clallam County Undersheriff Ron Cameron said that he has noticed a distinct increase in traffic in the county, particularly since some parks have reopened.
He said the county is advertising on Seattle TV stations that most beaches in this area are mostly closed, particularly Olympic National Park beaches along the Pacific Ocean.
“That afternoon crawl out of Port Angeles at 5 p.m. is starting to return,” he said.