Online only urged for Clallam schools; hybrid plans in Jefferson

Citing a recent spike in COVID-19 infections, the Clallam County health department recommended Tuesday that schools open only for remote learning in September.

Meanwhile, county health officials announced that 11 recent cases were connected to an outbreak at Bourbon West, a Port Angeles bar that closed last week.

Clallam County’s two-week rate of COVID-19 infection was 94 cases per 100,000 population as of Tuesday, which is considered “high risk.”

The moderate risk category — and a benchmark for schools to partially reopen — is 25 to 75 cases per 100,000.

“We do not make this decision lightly,” Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank said Tuesday after meeting with school district superintendents on the decision to begin the school year remotely.

“We know that this will have serious implications for children and working families in our area, but we have to make the safety of students, staff, and families our first priority.”

The health department said that school superintendents in the county had been consulted before it made its recommendation.

Sequim School District Superintendent Dr. Rob Clark said Monday at an evening school board meeting that Sequim and other school districts would begin the 2020-21 academic year remotely for all students after consulting with Unthank.

Clallam County health officials have recommended that schools consider reopening for limited in-person instruction only when the local infection rate has been below 75 cases per 100,000 population for four weeks or more.

Unthank and Port Angeles School District Superintendent Martin Brewer were scheduled to brief the Port Angeles City Council on school reopening plans Tuesday evening.

Clallam and Jefferson counties each added two cases of COVID-19 Tuesday.

Clallam County had 169 total cases and Jefferson County had 61 cases since March.

Clallam County had 33 cases reported in the past week and 64 for the two-week period ending Tuesday. Jefferson County had six cases in the last week and seven in the last two weeks.

The two-week infection rate is based on the date that a positive sample is collected, not the date a case gets reported.

Hybrid in Jefferson

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said he met virtually Tuesday with school district superintendents who were finalizing reopening plans that will include partial in-person learning and part-time remote instruction.

“The key thing that’s going to determine whether schools are able to stay open and provide these educational services is going to be stuff that goes on outside the school,” Locke said in a Tuesday interview.

“People have to take this seriously.”

Jefferson County’s two-week infection rate remains below 25 per 100,000 residents,

In a Clallam County Board of Health meeting Tuesday, Unthank said the health department had exceeded its capacity for COVID-19 case investigations.

Jefferson County has volunteered three case investigators to help with contract tracing in Clallam County, Unthank said.

Clallam outbreak

“We have had one significant outbreak associated with a local businesses,” Unthank said at the meeting.

“We did publish the name of that business, Bourbon West, because we believe there were many exposures of clientele in addition to staff between the dates of Aug. 9 and Aug. 13.”

Anyone who visited Bourbon West, 125 W. Front St., between Aug. 9 and Thursday is encouraged to get tested for COVID-19 and quarantine at home for two weeks, the county health department said.

“The vast majority of local businesses are trying very hard to follow our safety guidelines, but there are bad actors out there that are not following COVID-19 safety guidelines,” Unthank told the Board of Health.

“This establishment is one that was not following safety guidelines.”

Bar owner Jake Oppelt said four Bourbon West employees tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a private party on Aug. 7.

The bar closed Thursday when the employees learned that they had tested positive for COVID-19, Oppelt said.

He disagreed with the health department.

“Other people in the community that have tested positive from other restaurants, well, they were all people that were there,” Oppelt said of the Aug. 7 party.

“So my problem is the outbreak being considered a Bourbon West outbreak is an error. That’s not factual.”

The Bourbon West employees who tested positive wore masks and had limited contact with customers, Oppelt said.

Signs were posted around the establishment in early June reminding patrons of the masking requirements, Oppelt said.

“It’s always tough because people obviously take (masks) off to eat or drink,” Oppelt said.

The affected employees had “extremely mild symptoms, if any at all,” said Oppelt, who also owns Next Door Gastropub at 113 W. First St.

Oppelt said he closed Next Door Gastropub on Sunday out of an abundance of caution.

“At this point, I have zero Gastropub employees who have tested positive,” Oppelt said Tuesday afternoon.

Both establishments have undergone a deep cleaning and disinfecting.

Additional safety measures, including temperature checks for customers, will be implemented before the bars reopen, Oppelt said.

“I’ve also invited the health department down to both establishments before any of this, and I’m hoping that we will get a chance to go through everything and make sure that everybody is on the same page and that they are satisfied with all the measures that we’re taking,” Oppelt said.

Unthank told the county Board of Health that Bourbon West must remain closed under a governor’s proclamation until the public health department has “deemed them to no longer be an imminent hazard to the public.”

Sabai Thai in Port Angeles has closed until Sept. 1 because of some personnel having had close contact with people who have tested positive, it said on its Facebook page. No workers had tested positive.

Jasmine Bistro, which closed the first week of the month because an employee had tested positive, is open again.

Quilcene School District planned a “gradual, step-by-step” implementation of in-person learning and Brinnon School District planned to offer several options for parents, Locke said.

“I haven’t heard about Chimacum, but all the schools are opening sometime between Sept. 2 and Sept. 8,” Locke said.

Locke and Unthank each emphasized the need for the public to limit social interactions and to wear masks to the slow the spread of the highly-contagious virus.

“What we’re seeing in Clallam right now, which is people who feel that they can kind of party and it’s no big deal if they get COVID-19, that is so dangerously untrue because it triggers outbreaks, it can spread to vulnerable patients and kill them,” Locke said.

“It’s the kind of thing that will make it impossible for the schools to deliver this vital in-person education to students. We’ve got to pull together as as community to help the schools to try to continue the education of children.”

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

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