Peninsula counties to consider Phase 3

Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer, is unsure if the county Board of Health will approve applying to move into Phase 3 on Tuesday.

She expressed concern because of recent large increases of new cases of COVID-19 elsewhere in the state.

Although both Clallam and Jefferson counties have had recent new cases, both are likely to qualify for Phase 3, officials said.

The Clallam County Board of Health will meet at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday to discuss a Phase 3 variance request to the state and overnight camping, which is now permitted in Jefferson County but not in Clallam County.

Unthank said she believes the county meets the criteria for moving to Phase 3, which would allow more businesses, such as gyms, to reopen as well as libraries and museums and would expand the capacity in restaurants and bars.

However, she expects the board to consider whether it’s a good idea to move forward with an increase in new COVID-19 cases, particularly in the Yakima and the Tri-Cities areas. King, Snohomish and Pierce counties are also seeing increasing numbers of cases.

“I don’t know yet whether or not we will” move to Phase 3, Unthank said.

“It’s likely we’ll meet the state metrics. The question is, is it a smart decision to move to Phase 3 while the rest of the state is seeing an increase in cases?”

The three Jefferson County commissioners will consider approving a letter of application to the state for the county to move into Phase 3 when they meet in special session at 9 a.m. Monday. Commissioners approved on June 18 applying to enter Phase 3.

Locke said that while the county’s Phase 2 application was approved by the state within 24 hours, he said that if Jefferson does go ahead and apply for Phase 3, the state likely will not approve it right away. He said the state is taking up to a week now to decide on applications for Phase 3.

Both Clallam and Jefferson counties have seen new cases recently.

Two are in Clallam County. Unthank said Friday that a woman in her 50s and a woman in her 20s were confirmed with the disease. Both are recovering at home, she said.

She said one of the new cases is a health care worker, the first one in Clallam County to test positive for COVID-19.

Unthank said the county health department is still investigating if that health care worker was infected at her workplace or elsewhere.

As of Friday, Clallam County was at 35 confirmed cases with 33 people recovered. Jefferson County reported one new case, bringing that county to 37 total cases, said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer, on Saturday. The woman in her 70s is related to a person who tested positive earlier this week, he said.

Jefferson County has had five new confirmed cases last week. Three of the new cases were people who had no symptoms, but tested positive when screened for dental or medical procedures.

State Secretary of Health John Weisman’s mandate that all wear face masks inside public places or outdoors when social distancing is not possible came into effect Friday. Violation is a misdemeanor. It is in addition to an order from Gov. Jay Inslee on June 8 that employees must wear masks unless they have no contact with others.

Unthank said she had heard it said that because she had not been in favor of a local masking mandate, this new state directive would not be enforced in Clallam County.

“I can’t overrule the Secretary of Health, nor do I want to,” Unthank said. “I actually do want everyone in Clallam County to wear a mask. We have a difference of opinion of how to get there, but we do want the same outcome.”

Unthank said some have called law enforcement to report people in public without masks. She asked people to stop doing this.

“We’re not going to arrest people for not wearing a mask,” she said.

“In speaking to the Sheriff’s Office and police departments, we have no intention to stop random people and interrogate them about whether they’re wearing a mask,” Unthank said.

She said some people might have valid reasons for not wearing a mask and that people did not need to get a doctor’s note for not wearing a mask.

Unthank said the county will get involved if people report a business that isn’t requiring its employees to wear a mask, or if a member of the public is asked by a business to wear a mask and creates a disruption while refusing. In a case like that, “law enforcement will intervene,” she said.

Locke said that Inslee and state officials have been smart in dealing with COVID-19 and said that “Yakima will be brought under control.”

Locke doesn’t think COVID-19 will ever get as out of control here as Florida, which saw 9,000 new infections Friday and 9,600 Saturday. Washington, despite the recent uptick in cases this past week, hasn’t had more than 700 new cases in a day all week.

“We’re never going to get that,” he said. “Their governor is still in denial.”

Inslee’s office announced Saturday that the state is putting a “pause” on Phase 4 COVID-19 restrictions.

Phase 4 is essentially lifting all COVID-19 restrictions. Eight counties were eligible to move from Phase 3 to Phase 4 before Saturday’s announcement.

“Phase 4 would mean a return to normal activity and we can’t do that now due to the continued rise in cases across the state,” Inslee said.

“We all want to get back to doing all the things we love in Washington during the summer, and fully open our economy, but we aren’t there yet. This is an evolving situation and we will continue to make decisions based on the data.”

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Sports Editor Pierre LaBossiere can be reached at plabossiere@peninsuladailynews.com.

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