PORT ANGELES — Gov. Jay Inslee visited the North Olympic Peninsula, holding a meeting on COVID-19 at the Peninsula College Longhouse, visiting the state-funded Lower Dungeness River floodplain project site and touring the Composite Recycling Technology Center in events that were closed to the public.
The 16 coronavirus meeting attendees on Friday included Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties; OMC Chief Medical Officer Scott Kennedy, Port Angeles Mayor Kate Dexter, Port Angeles Schools Superintendent Marty Brewer, four area tribal representatives, and two representatives each from the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and the Service Employees International Union, which represents nurses.
“It was actually relatively positive,” Berry said afterward.
Points of discussion included the shortage in medical system staffing, the decline in cases and the need for “courageous action” at the state level to control the virus, she said.
Participants also discussed Berry’s proof-of-vaccination requirement for indoor restaurant patrons in both counties. She noted the decline in protests over the mandate and said “the vast majority of businesses seem to be adjusting to the order very well and steps to get the pandemic under control.”
A reporter from Peninsula Daily News and a reporter-photographer from Fox News 13 in Seattle asked questions of Inslee for 13 minutes outside the Longhouse following the meeting.
“We do think, I assume it was organized in a way, that we could have a rational discussion and not have it turn into shouting matches, and we had some very productive discussions today with the medical community, because what we learned is some of the things that are going on here are having success, the masking requirement, the vaccine requirements we heard are driving down these numbers, and that is really good news,” Inslee said.
“We needed to have a good discussion with medical professionals, and I’m happy we did it this way.”
Inslee, who said he might consider a similar proof-of-vaccination mandate statewide as the one Berry imposed, discussed his Oct. 18 deadline for state employees and health care workers to be vaccinated or be exempted for religious or medical reasons as a condition of employment.
At Clallam Bay Corrections Center, 160 COVID-19 cases were reported as of last week among staff and inmates. Among staff, 61 percent were unvaccinated as of Sept. 20, the most recent percentage provided Friday by Inslee’s office.
The West End state prison has the fourth lowest vaccination rate among 37 state agencies and facilities, after state Department of Children, Youth and Families facilities in Echo Glen, Green Hill and Naselle, according to the state Office of Financial Management.
Monday is the last day for the unvaccinated to get their shots and fall within the two-week period to reach immunization under Inslee’s order.
He said Friday he will not budge on the Oct. 18 deadline.
“The good news is, we are having a fairly rapid uptick of the vaccine at our Department of Correction facilities,” said Inslee, who added he has done all he could to combat the pandemic.
“I don’t know what else in the human power that we could have done,” he said.
“Our state employees should not be infecting the public.”
State officials have contingency plans in place if a large percentage of state residents do not get vaccinated.
“We could consider a requirement like Clallam and Jefferson counties have regarding access to businesses and restaurants and the like,” he said.
Inslee said the state might consider imposing a requirement similar to the federal rule mandating, by Nov. 22, that all federal employees must be vaccinated, and he may consider adding COVID-19 vaccinations to the list of those required of children.
“We do need more people to be vaccinated,” Inslee said.
“Listening to the physicians here and Dr. Berry, this community was right on the edge of collapse of the medical system. We had people who were hypoxic, couldn’t get enough oxygen, and the emergency department couldn’t get a bed here in the community. Many elected surgeries have had to be canceled,” he said.
“We can’t allow this to come back and bite us again.”
Inslee began his visit to Clallam County by touring the Composite Recycling Technology Center (CRTC) in Port Angeles, established with $2 million in federal Department of Commerce funds, $1 million in county Opportunity Fund money and $1 million from the state Clean Energy Fund.
“The composite center is just a bright light in our effort to revolutionize our whole supply chain and our energy world,” he said.
The facility recycles scrap carbon-fiber materials produced by Puget Sound-area manufacturers into commercial products.
“We know we have to develop an economy that decarbonizes, that doesn’t waste products, that doesn’t waste energy, and this is one of the most creative enterprises in the world today,” Inslee said.
“There’s no better thing than when you’re putting people to work at good jobs at the same time you’re fighting climate change. That’s happening right here in Port Angeles. It’s really, really exciting.”
After the Longhouse meeting, Inslee finished his visit by stopping by the Dungeness floodplain-levee site.
“The floodplain is another important project in our salmon restoration projects, to make sure that we don’t have all this water just running down, tearing up the streams, tearing up the salmon habitat,” Inslee said before departing for the site.
“It’s a very scientifically oriented program, so I just want to go see how it’s working.”
Inslee met there for 20-30 minutes with Clallam County Board of Commissioners Chair Mark Ozias of Sequim and others who included Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Council Vice Chair Lonnie Grinnell-Greninger, North Olympic Land Trust Executive Director Tom Sanford, and officials from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the state Recreation and Conservation Office, Ozias said.
“He listened intensely and asked some questions, and he encouraged everyone not to hesitate, not to be scared to reach out to their legislators and others in positions of authority, and advocated for more aggressive work around climate change,” Ozias said.
Inslee said the project “will be all for naught” if rivers are too acidic or warm and that “we need to double down and encourage legislation that this incredible investment and resource and partnership is not wasted,” Ozias said.
Democratic 24th District state Representatives Mike Chapman of Port Angeles and Steve Tharinger of Port Townsend, the head of the capital budget committee that reviews and recommends funding for the project, said Friday they did not know Inslee was visiting Clallam County.
“That’s not unusual,” Tharinger said Saturday of Inslee’s visit. “Some of this stuff happens fairly quickly.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].