PORT TOWNSEND — Stay-at-home measures seem to be having a positive effect on the new coronavirus, and the state is sending more personal protection equipment to Jefferson County later this week, commissioners learned in a weekly briefing.
However, commissioners also were cautioned that this week will be crucial in stemming the tide of infections and that social distancing restrictions may have to extend through most, if not all, of April.
Commissioners held a video remote meeting Monday to get an update on COVID-19, the virus that causes the disease.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that [shelter in place] is starting to work,” county Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said.
“This week is crucial,” he said. “What we’re doing is working. It’s starting to flatten the curve,” especially along the I-5 corridor.
Willie Bence, the director of the county’s Department of Emergency Management, said his office has been working to obtain more personal protection equipment (PPE) for health care workers and emergency services providers such as firefighters and police officers.
He reported the state has said Jefferson County should receive more PPEs later this week.
Bence said the state should know how much of equipment in the next day or two.
“Hopefully, it will be multiple pallets,” he said.
“We’re working really hard on getting additional PPEs,” Bence said.
He added that metro areas are a high priority and that rural counties such as Jefferson are secondary.
“This is a global pandemic,” Bence said. “It’s everywhere fighting for these resources. We’re having some trouble getting those resources.”
Bence reported the county also is expecting to receive two additional ventilators this week. One will be an ICU ventilator and will go to Jefferson Healthcare hospital while the other will go for patient transport.
Locke said Jefferson County Public Health reported two more positive tests Monday, bringing the total in the county to 16. He said the county is still investigating whether the new cases were locally transmitted or contracted from outside the county.
He added the county will be sending out guidelines this week to local businesses on how to deal with COVID-19 in the workplace. In particular, they will stress the importance of hand washing and sanitizing and making sure sick employees are not working.
“If there’s any sign of illness, it’s critically important for those people to stay home,” he said.
Locke also stressed that people become familiar with their neighbors and have a plan in place in case they become infected and need people to help them get food or other essentials when they have to go into quarantine.
While people can still go to grocery stores, they should continue to take precautions, Locke said. He encouraged people to wash their hands thoroughly before going to the store, keep at least 6 feet away from others, don’t touch items and put them back on a shelf, and to wash their hands again after they get home.
He also urged that if the store is overly crowded, it’s a good idea to try again at another time.
“It won’t be this way forever, but this is the way it is right now,” Locke said.
While the measures appear to be having an effect, the county and state must keep them in effect for most if not all of April to effectively “flatten the curve” of infections, he said.
Relaxing the restrictions too early “could be a disaster, and we’d have to start all over from square one,” Locke said.
He expects the virus to remain a part of everyday life for the next several months until a vaccine or antiviral treatment is developed, or if so many people catch it that they develop an immunity to it and the virus runs out of new people to infect.
Commissioner David Sullivan asked about the status of Airbnbs or the Jefferson County Sportsmen’s Association shooting range. While Locke wasn’t able to specifically address Airbnbs, he said it’s important to keep some transient accommodations open because health care workers and emergency personnel need a place to go. They often can’t go home because they are working in a high-risk situation and don’t want to infect their families, he said.
Commissioner Kate Dean said some local rules may have to be fine-tuned because there is still a problem with out-of-county residents coming to Jefferson County to vacation or to try and get away from the virus.
“The vacation rentals are still filling up,” Dean said. It’s very discouraging to me that not everyone is getting the message to stay home. What part of ‘stay home’ is so hard to understand?”
As far as the shooting range, county Administrator Philip Morley said the club is open but is not hosting events or competitions. Individuals can still use the facilities as long as they maintain distance from each other.
Locke urged people to go outside for hikes and walks to help with stress and mental health. Jefferson County parks remain open for walkers, although some facilities have been closed.
The Port Townsend Farmers Market remains scheduled to open Saturday, but vendors will keep their booths at least 10 feet apart.
“I think keeping it open is the same rationale as keeping grocery stores open,” Locke said.