Peninsula prepares for Phase 2

Officials working with businesses as they reopen

Monday marks the official beginning of the entire North Olympic Peninsula operating in Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start Washington” plan.

All activities under the plan including in-restaurant dining at 50 percent capacity, in-store retail at 30 percent capacity and nail and hair salons/barbers all open, with the sole exception of overnight camping in Clallam and Jefferson counties.

Camping in both counties will open when the entire state has entered Phase 2, as the Jefferson County Board of Health chose to not open camping until Clallam County does and the Clallam County Board of Health decided to not open camping until the state is in Phase 2.

State parks is opening a number of parks on the Olympic Peninsula to day use, but likewise not allowing any camping.

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said one reason to not allow camping is that while new COVID-19 cases on the Peninsula have slowed down to a crawl, there are still some areas of the state — Snohomish, King, Pierce and Yakima counties — where new infections are still happening.

“There are four counties that are not in good control,” Locke said. “We’re encouraging people to get outside, but do it closer to home. We’re asking them that if they travel, to do it later in the season.”

The change on Monday will allow restaurants to open with 50 percent capacity, in-store retail at 30 percent capacity and indoor religious services at 25 percent capacity up to 50 people, among other loosening of restrictions designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

As of Saturday, there had been no new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in either county. Clallam County held at 25 confirmed cases and Jefferson County held at 30 confirmed cases.

Twenty-one of the confirmed cases in Clallam County have now recovered and 28 have recovered in Jefferson County, officials said.

Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank credits the low number of cases in the county to people following the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order and following hand washing and social distancing guidelines, as well as the Department of Emergency Management making sure no significant outbreaks occurred.

“The twenty-five positive cases is a sign we’ve done a lot well locally,” Unthank said. “I have heard some talk that ‘this is mainly because we’re rural and so it never would have been that bad in the first place’ and that’s just not true.

“If you look at other counties that are rural — Franklin County is a good example — they are about the same population we are and about as rural and they have well over 500 cases and 20 deaths so far,” she continued.

“Rural counties are not immune to this virus. What does control this virus is what the people of Clallam County have done.”

The reason for Clallam County delaying its entry to Phase 2 after the state approved it on Thursday, is to help businesses prepare to open with proper safety protocols. Others that opened up immediately in other counties saw an increase in transmission of COVID-19 because they weren’t prepared, Unthank said.

Jefferson County has not actually had a new case since April 9, more than seven weeks, Locke said. A few cases have been reported since then, but it turned out the transmission of those cases happened in March.

“We’re thinking [opening up] will stir things up,” Locke said. “That six-plus weeks with no cases will probably come to an end.”

Jefferson County also has been assisting businesses as they reopen. Officials created a joint program, “Jefferson Cares,” to help share information on guidelines as businesses open up with support from The Chamber of Jefferson County, Jefferson Public Health and local businesses, said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.

“It’s a lot of work for the various businesses to reopen under these conditions, because they have to sort of redesign their work spaces for extended periods of time with each other indoors,” Locke said

Also what takes effect Monday is a masking mandate for Jefferson County, which mandates face masks to be worn by all customers going into businesses and by people who are outside where social distancing isn’t possible, Locke said.

Face masks have been available for free in Jefferson County through the county’s community mask program and Locke expects them to be available for sale in downtown Port Townsend as stores continue to open.

Jefferson Transit is following the directive and, beginning Monday, will require all passengers to wear face coverings.

“People who go into businesses not wearing masks, the risks they’re taking are not what we’re concerned about; the risk they’re causing to other people is what we’re trying to stop,” Locke said.

“They may be carrying this infection and not even know it, and if they are, they could spread it to those workers or they could contaminate that in-door space and cause someone else to be infected.

“The nature of this infection is that you can carry it without knowing it, and you can spread it without knowing it and the best way to prevent that is by wearing a mask and maintaining this 6-foot physical separation.”

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached by email at [email protected].

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