Jefferson County officials are trying to process whether or not they still will be able to apply for a variance to start Phase 2 in Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase economic reopening plan early despite a new confirmed case of COVID-19.
After a weekend of good weather with packed parks and trails, officials also are concerned about a possible rise in the number of cases on the North Olympic Peninsula as a result.
As of Monday, there had been no additional cases of COVID-19 reported between Clallam and Jefferson counties, with the total of 48 holding.
Friday’s Jefferson County case is a woman in her 90s who is currently hospitalized at Jefferson Healthcare, Dr. Tom Locke, the Jefferson County health officer, said during the Monday morning county commissioners meeting.
“She’s doing fine,” Locke said. “She’s in stable condition.”
In Clallam County, all 19 patients who had confirmed COVID-19 tests have recovered, said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.
Out of the 29 confirmed cases in Jefferson, 26 have recovered, according to Jefferson County Public Health.
The new case in Jefferson County raised concerns because Jefferson is one of the original 10 rural counties approved to be able to apply for a variance waiver to enter into Phase 2. However, one of the qualifications was that the county couldn’t have a new confirmed case in three weeks, Locke said.
Now Locke is trying to learn where Jefferson County stands on waiver eligibility, as the county, city of Port Townsend and health board officials have several meetings scheduled through the next few weeks to discuss which Phase 2 openings the county could allow safely.
Locke believes the state may relax its policy on holding confirmed cases steady for three weeks in areas where case numbers already are few. With expanded testing capabilities now, Locke said it would be unrealistic to expect no new cases.
Instead, the percent of positives in terms of total tests administered and the rate of transmission should be weighed more than the pure number, he said.
“It’s not really a realistic goal even for waivered counties, especially when you do expanded testing,” Locke said. “When you do expanded testing of a condition that’s highly contagious, and when many people with it are asymptomatic, you will find more cases.
“And that’s what we want to do, that’s how we control this, by finding cases and identifying contacts and breaking chains of transmission.
“So zero cases is not a realistic goal for anyone.”
Also in discussion at the state level is regional Phase 2 openings in combined counties such as Kitsap, Jefferson and Clallam, Unthank said.
Other areas such as Stevens and Mason counties have applied to be added to the variance list, even though they do not meet the three-week-long requirement, Locke said.
District 24 legislators sent a letter to the governor’s office last week, requesting Clallam to be added to the list, but the county has not received a response, Unthank said.
More than 1,500 people have been tested in Clallam County, and more than 900 have been tested in Jefferson County, officials said.
Last weekend, officials noted parks were busy with people, and the Board of Jefferson County Commissioners asked Locke if there was a way to restrict local parks to only allow local people.
“Local jurisdictions can not restrict access to public places based on your legal residence,” Locke said. “As much as people would want, I don’t think that is our legal ability, and even if it were, I would discourage doing it.
“I think we’re all in this together, and we have got to find a better way to motivate people to self-restrict their travel.”
Unthank echoed Locke’s statement about how counties can not limit access to public places, but she also said she’s concerned with large numbers of people gathering.
“Technically, it is OK to travel out of county for a Phase 1 permissible activity,” Unthank said. “Which means it is OK to travel to a different county to go to a park as long as you don’t camp. That is currently legal.
“Not everybody agrees with that, but it is legal. I do recommend keeping that distance. If you see a crowded park, go to a different park.
“That’s really the best way we can all stay safe right now.”
Both counties are testing all patients who have symptoms consistent with COVID-19. They are not testing people who aren’t displaying symptoms.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a person with a cough and shortness of breath/difficulty breathing, or with a combination of two or more of a fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell may have COVID-19.
Jefferson County residents must call the COVID-19 testing hotline at 360-344-3094 to make an appointment for a test.
Clallam County residents need to call their primary care provider. If they do not have one, there are three numbers that can be called between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. In Sequim, call 360-582-2930; in Port Angeles, call 360-565-0550; on the West End, call 360-374-6998, ext. 2.
All patients must call first in order to be tested.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at [email protected].