PORT ANGELES — The North Olympic Peninsula is adjusting to a new COVID-19 normal in the wake of Gov. Jay Inslee’s statewide closure of private and public schools and colleges and his limit on gatherings to 250 participants.
The executive orders to combat the pandemic go into effect Tuesday and last at least until April 24.
School district officials in Clallam and Jefferson counties were making plans, with many, such as Port Angeles Schools Superintendent Martin Brewer, working through the weekend to prepare for six weeks of no classes, spring sports and musical events.
“I was surprised with the action [Friday],” Brewer said that afternoon of Inslee’s announcement, adding the district had been developing plans for a potential shutdown.
“We’re going to be looking at providing child care services, looking at providing transportation for food, looking at providing education that we have not provided in the past,” Brewer said.
In an email to parents Friday following Inslee’s announcement, Port Townsend School District spokesperson Sarah Rubenstein said that “over the next few days,” district officials will communicate plans to provide learning support, emergency childcare for health care professionals and first responders, and support for 12th-grade students to ensure they can graduate.
There were no confirmed cases of the virus in Clallam County as of Friday and two Jefferson County residents who tested positive, although one had not been in the county since early February.
The other, a man in his 60s, has recovered.
Both were exposed outside of the county, said Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke.
On Friday, Locke said a Jefferson County man in his 70s who had contracted COVID-19 was exposed to the disease in a long-term care facility in the Seattle area.
The man, who did not have any contact with Jefferson County residents, was being treated in a Puget Sound veterans hospital, said Locke, who predicted more out-of-county exposure.
Clallam County had sent out 34 swab tests for the virus as of Friday, with 15 negative and 19 pending.
In Jefferson County, 78 people have been tested, with 40 negative and 38 pending.
County commissioners in Clallam and Jefferson counties also were set Monday to take extraordinary measures to meet the challenge of what health officials say in COVID-19’s eventual arrival on the Peninsula, county officials said.
They are expected to approve emergency declarations making it easier, by waiving bid requirements, to purchase personal protection equipment — in short supply statewide — for health care and emergency workers, and to make other expenditures to combat the virus, said Clallam County Commissioner Mark Ozias and Jefferson County Administrator Philip Morley.
The Port Angeles School District also was set to pass a similar emergency declaration at a special board meeting Monday.
School closures will have an immediate impact on working parents and a ripple effect on businesses and government services when parents need to stay home to take care of children, Morley said Saturday.
“As this lasts, the economic impact it’s going to have on individual businesses, on nonprofits, on tourism businesses and on local government revenues is going to be significant, and a real challenge, and once those impacts happen, it will take a while for us to recover from that,” he said.
Passenger capacity on the Black Ball Ferry Line’s Coho between Port Angeles and Victoria was reduced Friday.
Ryan Malane, Black Ball’s vice president of marketing, said the reduction to 500 — the vessel has a capacity of 1,000 passengers — was imposed to comply with Transport Canada’s decision to limit ships to that number.
“Certainly, bookings have slowed,” he said Friday.
College president Luke Robins said Saturday the college was set to announce Monday a startup of spring quarter and a switch to online-only courses as of April 13 to prevent a spread of the virus.
Robins’ address Friday to faculty and staff Friday is at https://tinyurl.com/PDN-RobinsAddress.
Sequim School District Superintendent Rob Clark said that Sequim schools will remain open Monday to make information available to parents and students, to provide information on the closure and to make the library available.
This weekend’s 38th Annual Clallam County Home and Lifestyle Show, which has attracted 10,000-15,000 residents, was cancelled last week.
The Makah reservation also has been shut down by tribal leaders (https://tinyurl.com/PDN-MakahClosed).
The state Department of Corrections also suspended visitation, including extended family visits, at Clallam Bay Corrections Center and the agency’s other correctional facilities until enhanced screening procedures are implemented for employees, contractors and inmates, the agency announced Thursday.
Clallam County Public Utility District also announced Friday that facilities are closed to customer access as of Friday.
Locke and Clallam County Health Officer Allison Berry Unthank had been advocating keeping schools open.
Locke said Inslee’s decision involved a balancing act between benefits, such as social distancing, and harms.
“We respect the governor’s authority,” he said.
“It’s his call.
“We are awaiting additional information on the health benefits.”
As of Friday afternoon, the state Department of Health listed 568 cases statewide, including 37 deaths, of which 328 cases were in King County, including 32 deaths (https://tinyurl.com/PDN-COVID19Health).
Clallam was one of 24 among the state’s 39 counties without any cases.
“A county-by-county approach is not sufficient,” Inslee said Friday in his press conference announcing the school closures and limit on gatherings.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdall said at the news conference that while areas of the state had not had a case of COVID-19, “the concern of parents grows.”
He said absentee rates have increased and that the number of available substitute teachers and bus drivers continues disrupt districts’ ability to provide education ” in a lot of these parts of our state consistently and equitably.”
Port Angeles School District spokesperson Jennifer Sperline said in an email Friday that staff numbers are normal and that student attendance is slightly higher than normal.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].
Sequim Gazette reporter Conor Dowley contributed to this report.