PORT ANGELES — Gov. Jay Inslee and officials from Clallam and Jefferson counties were on the same page Monday.
Inslee issued a statewide stay-at-home order to combat COVID-19 about seven hours after Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry Unthank and the Board of Jefferson County Commissioners strongly recommended the restrictions.
Unthank said Monday there has been in increase of people with coronavirus symptoms at emergency rooms on the Peninsula.
Meanwhile, Vicki Kirkpatrick, the director of Jefferson County Public Health, and Willie Bence, the director for the county’s Department of Emergency Management, briefed Jefferson County commissioners on the status of how the departments have been preparing for the virus.
An eighth case was confirmed in Jefferson County on Monday afternoon, bringing the total on the Peninsula to 12.
At the same time, Clallam County was visited by numerous Seattle-area residents who live in a national hot spot for COVID-19 cases, County Commissioner Mark Ozias said.
Many were reportedly seeking respite from their area’s tight social-distancing restrictions, prompting one Port Angeles restaurateur to shut down her business Sunday out of fear the virus would be spread by people who don’t realize they have it.
“It’s scary, and everyone can transmit it,” H2O Waterfront Bistro owner Young Johnson said Monday.
“We are a community of older people.
“Our demographics fit this virus perfectly.”
The number of Clallam County residents with COVID-19 doubled on Friday to four, with the two new cases not showing any indication that community transmission was involved.
Community transmission occurs when health officials don’t know the origin of the virus.
“We don’t technically have that yet, but we highly suspect that we have COVID-19 in much larger numbers now, and so we really want people to act accordingly.” Unthank said.
“So as much our citizens can stay home, if they can, we recommend that you do that.
“That’s how you support your community, that’s how you support the people around you from getting sick.
“Stay away from people as much as you can.
“Stay home and stay healthy. That’s the goal.”
Kirkpatrick said Jefferson County Public Health officials who previously were in a period of containment have now moved into phase two, which will be implementing possible restrictions to protect residents.
“We knew the day would come when we would have community transmission,” Kirkpatrick said. “We just didn’t know when that might happen, and I think we’re here at this point.
“We’re now in phase two, and so the decisions around the appropriate approach ratchet up fairly significantly.”
She said the measures may include “restricting some of those personal freedoms we enjoy under normal circumstances.”
“It becomes significantly more important that people — particularly people at high risk — that they don’t congregate in a large group,” Kirkpatrick said.
A total of 381 patients have been tested in Jefferson County, resulting in 162 negative tests. There were 211 results pending as of Monday.
Two of the cases were believed to be from community exposure and six from out-of-county exposure, according to Jefferson County Public Health.
Unthank said 174 coronavirus tests had been conducted on Clallam County residents, with 116 coming back negative, 54 pending and the four residents showing positive tests.
Contact tracing had been conducted for the two cases reported Saturday.
People in close contact with the patients have been quarantined, while those who have developed symptoms, such as respiratory distress and fever, are being tested, Unthank said.
One of the new Clallam County patients is a woman in her 40s, the other a woman in her 60s.
One is in the same home as a person previously diagnosed with the virus, while the other was exposed in King County, Unthank said.
Health officials are not releasing details on the patients beyond their age ranges and their county of residence for privacy reasons, Unthank said.
County Administrator Rich Sill said no county workers had been diagnosed with the virus, although all employees began getting screened Monday as they arrived for work.
Supervisors were having the workers respond to checklists for COVID-19 symptoms, the presence of which could send them home on paid administrative leave.
Two first responders have tested negative for the virus and three are awaiting results, Port Angeles Police Chief Brian Smith said.
Smith said Monday he was unaware of anyone in the first-responder community who has tested positive.
Unthank’s shelter-in-place recommendation was in line with efforts to maintain social distancing, defined as 6 feet or more of separation, a distance within which someone can catch the virus if exposed to someone with COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes.
Unthank also cited a continuing shortage of personal protection equipment such as surgical masks and N95 plastic face shields, which protect against the coughs and sneezes that spew virus-laden droplets that, in large part, land on hard surfaces that host the transfer of the infection from hand to face.
She said state health officials are moving in a more equitable direction of distributing the equipment to rural counties but that all counties are facing similar shortages despite a recent surge of state and federal assets.
“We are operating under the assumption we will not get a big influx of resources,” Unthank said.
The shortage includes test kits, of which Clallam County received 15 over the weekend, and had 160 remaining as of last week.
Kirkpatrick said Jefferson County also needs resources.
“To the extent possible, we need to keep the surgical masks, the N95s, for our healthcare workers, because this is going to be a marathon, not a sprint,” she said. “We need our healthcare workers to be well.”
Bence was concerned about what is known as “the paradox of preparedness” — which he described as taking steps that, in hindsight, may seem like over-preparedness.
“A step — like a state-wide shelter-in-place order — ideally does seem like over-preparedness in hindsight, but I do worry about not taking that step and then regretting it later on,” he said.
Karina Shagren, a spokesperson for the state Military Department, said Monday the new equipment would be delivered to counties beginning this week.
Ozias said he heard numerous reports from the tourism industry over the weekend of Seattle-area residents traveling to Clallam County to avoid stay-at-home restrictions in the part of the state most severely affected by COVID-19.
The county and state have shut down parks, and Olympic National Park has closed campgrounds, visitor centers and Hurricane Ridge Road but kept hiking trails open.
There were 1,815 COVID-19 cases reported as of Monday in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, including 99 deaths of the 110 recorded statewide.
The vast majority of cases are in King County.
Officials in the three counties have agreed to employ “some very intensive messaging” statewide about traveling to other areas, Unthank said.
“It’s not really consistent with social distancing to go to rural areas that don’t have as much COVID-19,” she said.
Restaurant owners statewide have been restricted by Inslee for more than a week from offering sit-down service, having to rely on takeout and, in Port Angeles, DoorDash delivery service, to generate revenue.
Johnson said she closed her restaurant Sunday after Seattle-area residents seeking take-out service outnumbered Peninsula patrons by about 10-to 1.
“They needed to get out of the house because we are the safest place,” she said of their explanation.
“We need a statewide or countywide quarantine. Otherwise, this thing is not gong to go away.”
Bence encouraged residents who have ideas on how to help to contact the Jefferson County Department of Emergency Management.
“If you do have a specific idea or specific skill set or resource, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at the Department of Emergency Management,” he said. “We’re certainly slammed as well, but we want to hear what you can do and what you’re able to help with.”
Ideas that Bence listed included sewing masks or organizing grocery delivery.
Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP) also is compiling a list of people who would be willing to volunteer to help during the pandemic. Interested individuals can sign up at tinyurl.com/PDN-OlyCAPVolunteers.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected].