Mandate comment expected Tuesday

Continued focus this week

Initial reports from restaurants to county public health departments saw the first weekend of the vaccinated-only mandate for indoor dining and bars went better than officials expected, the North Olympic Peninsula health officer said.

“So far what I’ve heard from restaurant owners is the rollout went better than social media might’ve left you to expect,” said Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Jefferson and Clallam counties. “Most patrons were happy to follow the mandate, and many folks who were unvaccinated were happy to eat at some of the outdoor seating or order some takeout.

“So, I would say the vast majority of folks have done really quite well with the new rules. Certainly, there are some vocal opponents out there, but I see in most cases it’s going just fine.”

The public health departments will continue to work bars and restaurants during the next week, focusing on supporting and educating as the staff continue to adapt to the recent order, Berry said.

Data regarding COVID-19 cases and updated case rates from over the weekend were unavailable on Monday due to the Labor Day holiday.

Berry will meet virtually with the Clallam County Commissioners at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday as the board takes public comment, limited to three minutes per speaker.

The main entrance at the Clallam County Courthouse, 223 E. Fourth St. in Port Angeles, will be closed from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Those who want to attend should enter through the Board of Commissioners board room doors on the south side of the building. Masking and capacity requirements will be enforced. Audio speakers will be placed outside so everyone can listen to the meeting.

Clallam County Superior and District courts will continue operations as usual. Those who want to attend should enter through the east entrance at the courthouse, known as the sheriff’s entrance.

Berry said she expects to hear from many members of the public who are opposed to the mandate that requires all indoor restaurant and bar patrons in both counties to show proof of vaccination.

She also said her role as the health officer is not an elected position but rather as an expert in public health who makes evidence-based policy decisions from the available science.

Her mandates do not require a vote by government officials.

“I think a lot of folks didn’t know that my position existed until the pandemic happened, and so I think people aren’t quite sure what to do with it,” Berry said. “The health officer is intentionally an apolitical position. We are in this position to be scientific experts and make evidence-based health decisions during these health emergencies.

“The health department is kind of, by definition, apolitical; we look at the data; we look at the current trends, and we make our best recommendations and policies based on that.”

The COVID-19 data for Clallam and Jefferson counties — more severely in Clallam — is at record highs. Berry said officials are doing what they can to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, as the three hospitals on the Peninsula struggle under the strain of increased numbers of COVID-19 patients in addition to other medical patients.

While the mandate for proof of vaccination may be controversial, Berry said reimplentmenting capacity restrictions on restaurants and bars seen earlier in the pandemic would be more harmful for businesses.

The hospitals have been requesting help from their volunteer pools and asking for support from the state, Berry said.

“We don’t make these mandates lightly,” she said. “We certainly don’t find them fun,” she said. “Making mandates is very unpleasant. The main reason we’re doing it now is the hospitals are critically overrun.

“Things are incredibly dire on the health care end. We’re also beginning schools, and we really want to keep schools open this year. We have to reduce transmission in other areas to make that possible.”

Reports of individual COVID-19 cases at some school districts have already come out, with Port Townsend High School and Stevens Middle School in Port Angeles informing students and parents over the weekend of someone testing positive for COVID-19. Letters sent to parents and guardians said those exposed would be contacted by the school nurse or the public health department to quarantine for 10 days.

The cases are so far being caught quickly due to the rapid testing and symptom screenings the schools have in place, in addition to the mitigation measures such as face mask wearing and social distancing, which have so far prevented transmission at schools, Berry said.

Berry does not think all the school districts will be successful in completely preventing transmission in schools this year due to the larger number of students in classrooms and the extremely high levels of COVID-19 in the community, but the mitigations will keep any transmission limited if it does happen, she said.

“The system is working; it’s just stressful for students, staff and parents due to them already having cases, and I think that speaks to just how much COVID is in our community and how important these precautions are to prevent transmissions in schools,” Berry said.

________

Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected]

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