More help requested in Clallam County

Jefferson County pursuing early Phase 2

Clallam County needs more staff to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic, Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank told the county Board of Health on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Jefferson County health officials were seeking clarification on eligibility requirements to enter the second phase of a four-phase economic reopening plan, Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said.

No new cases of the novel coronavirus were reported on the North Olympic Peninsula on Tuesday.

The Clallam County Board of Health voted in a special meeting to support Unthank’s proposal to add three staff positions — a public health nurse, contract tracer/case manager and customer service specialist.

“Public health has to be the No. 1 priority,” Unthank said.

“We are in the middle of a pandemic.”

The proposed additions to the Health and Human Services Department are needed to respond to the expected rise in COVID-19 cases as physical distancing restrictions are relaxed, Unthank said.

“We have to be the top priority, and I’m not usually the kind of person to say that,” Unthank said.

“This is the time that we have to value public health.”

The three Clallam County commissioners, all of whom serve on the Board of Health, will discuss Unthank’s proposal in a work session at 9 a.m. Monday.

“I am bound and determined to try and do everything we can, both in the public health arena and every other, to build resilience where it is so obviously lacking right now,” Commissioner Mark Ozias said.

“My hope and intent would be for us to come to work session next week with a partially-baked plan.”

Numbers of cases

Clallam County had 19 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday afternoon, and all are considered to be recovered.

Unthank told the Board of Health that another case had emerged. She later said the patient was tested in Clallam County but resides in King County.

“They will be counted as a King (County) case after all,” Unthank said after the meeting.

“They have local contacts we are locating right now.”

Jefferson County still had 29 confirmed cases as of Tuesday, Locke said.

A Jefferson County woman in her 90s was reported to have contracted COVID-19 over the weekend. It was Jefferson County’s first confirmed case in over a month.

“The patient is doing fine,” Locke said Tuesday.

“She was discharged from the hospital and is recovering nicely.”

Jefferson County health officials were still investigating the woman’s case, which has implications for the county’s proposed Phase 2 variance under Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase economic reopening plan.

“We’re actually not sure when the true onset of it was,” Locke said of the woman’s infection.

“We’re trying to determine if it was an old case or not.”

Rural counties that have not had a new confirmed case in three weeks are eligible for a Phase 2 variance waiver.

Since Jefferson County had not submitted an application yet, the governor’s office could not say whether or not the county would be disqualified from the Phase 2 application due to the recently confirmed case.

However, Jefferson County’s permission to apply for a variance waiver had not been revoked, said Mike Faulk, deputy communications director.

“We’re still working on this variance request,” Locke said Tuesday.

Jefferson County meeting

“We’re going to have a Board of Health meeting on it Thursday, and we’re thinking Jefferson County still may be eligible for this variance request despite this recent diagnosed case,” Locke added.

“That whole thing’s kind of up in the air right now, what exactly the county eligibility criteria are,” he said.

Clallam County had trained 40 volunteer COVID-19 contact tracers, the equivalent of about 20 full-time tracers, Unthank said.

Jefferson County had seven-full time case investigators and was training two more, Locke said Tuesday.

“We’ll have a total of nine, and they’re all full-time county employees, which is important,” Locke said.

“A number of counties have had to rely on volunteers.”

Volunteers often have limited availability because they “have their own lives,” Locke said.

“Given that this is a real long-term proposition we’re involved in, we wanted to train county employees to do this so we could count on them to work overtime and on weekends and things like that if we needed it,” Locke said.

“The state will provide some backup, too, in the unlikely event that we get a large cluster.”

Unthank said more staffing was needed for COVID-19 infection prevention and outreach, contact tracing, outbreak response, case management, data management, public information, shelter management and logistics.

“We have to make our community safe and feel safe in order to get the economy running again,” Unthank said.

Ozias said he viewed public health as the “most fundamental responsibility of county government right now.”

“This presents us with an opportunity,” Ozias said.

“We have to think differently, but we can give ourselves the chance to figure out how to react to this in a way that actually builds something greater than just the reaction.”

Jefferson County health officials were focused on what Locke described as a “community dialogue” about the phased reopening of the economy.

Physical distancing restrictions remain in place under Inslee’s stay-home order.

“Whether Jefferson County gets a variance or not, it’s still important for people to be thinking about what it’s going to take to safely reopen our communities,” Locke said.

“We’re concerned about reports of people violating social distancing requirements and unnecessary travel and people just thinking that they can kind of ignore these things and be safe, and I really discourage that.

“I think if people want to move freely in the world, they have to learn how to do it,” Locke added.

“That world has changed.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].

Reporter Zach Jablonski contributed to this report.

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