A pair of isolation tents stand at the emergency room entrance at Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, in response to possible cases of COVID-19. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

A pair of isolation tents stand at the emergency room entrance at Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, in response to possible cases of COVID-19. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Westport lays off workers in Port Angeles

Shutdown compounded by ninth reported coronavirus case in Jefferson County

Up to 335 employees have been laid off at Port Angeles-based Westport LLC, a luxury yacht-maker fallen victim to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the move was made by company management Monday to protect workers from virus exposure, the workers would have lost their jobs anyway under Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order that lasts two weeks.

The economic blow of Westport shutting down was compounded by the ninth reported case of the coronavirus in a Jefferson County resident, which was reported Tuesday by county Health Officer Tom Locke.

It was the seventh out-of-county exposure in Jefferson County. The other two were in-county.

Jefferson County reported 220 negative results Tuesday with 176 pending and 9 positive results, as coronavirus cases nationally exceeded 50,000.

Clallam County reported no new cases Monday, with 204 residents tested, of which 151 are negative, 49 are pending and four were positive results generated in the last week.

Westport Yachts in Port Angeles has laid off its workforce in response to an economic downturn spurred by fears of the novel coronavirus. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Westport Yachts in Port Angeles has laid off its workforce in response to an economic downturn spurred by fears of the novel coronavirus. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Hundreds of workers and families had hoped Westport would weather the crisis.

“Yesterday, we made the decision to close all facilities with the exception of essential staff,” Human Resources-Safety Manager Jennifer Swogger said Tuesday morning.

The goal was to get staff “to a place where they could be safe with their families,” she said.

Westport, which runs a cabinet-making facility where an estimated 200 workers were employed, according to a conditional use permit, has its yacht-manufacturing facility on Marine Drive west of downtown Port Angeles.

The company’s Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification to state employment officials listed the action as a “permanent layoff” of 335 employees.

The company lists sites in Port Angeles and Seattle, but most of the company’s workers are in Port Angeles, state employment analyst Jim Vleming said.

Swogger said the company would have had to shut down under Inslee’s order allowing only essential staff for non-exempted businesses.

Yacht-making is not among the job sectors that can avoid shutting down under Inslee’s order, according to a 14-page list of exempted occupations at tinyurl.com/PDN-EssentialBusiness.

It includes sectors from food and agriculture to communications, such as newspapers.

“It’s amazing how many people are going to be able to go to work, and are allowed to use those services like retail, like Swain’s (General Store) can stay open,” Clallam County Undersheriff Ron Cameron said Tuesday at the daily COVID-19 briefing.

“The idea is go do your shopping, practice social distancing, and get your tail back home.”

Health professionals continue trying to meet the challenge of COVID-19’s increasing encroachment on the North Olympic Peninsula’s populace.

A Jefferson Healthcare employee tests a patient for COVID-19 at the hospital’s drive-thru testing site. If someone believes they need to be tested, they have to call the COVID-19/Respiratory Illness Nurse Consult Line at 360-344-3094 to schedule an appointment first. (Zach Jablonski/Peninsula Daily News)

A Jefferson Healthcare employee tests a patient for COVID-19 at the hospital’s drive-thru testing site. If someone believes they need to be tested, they have to call the COVID-19/Respiratory Illness Nurse Consult Line at 360-344-3094 to schedule an appointment first. (Zach Jablonski/Peninsula Daily News)

No more information

Locke said age ranges and genders of residents of Clallam and Jefferson counties who are diagnosed with the coronavirus would no longer be made public because of the growing magnitude of the virus.

“We’re moving into a different phase of this, as we expected,” Locke said. “That’s why we’re in a state of emergency.

“People have to be really serious about following the statewide order and especially stopping all nonessential travel and interaction.

“This is a crucial opportunity right now before we enter into the exponential part of the outbreak curve.”

As a sign of preparation for an uptick in coronavirus cases, two tents were set up Tuesday at Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles to screen patients, said Kevin Denton, Olympic Medical Center disaster preparedness coordinator, at the briefing.

Denton said OMC and Jefferson Healthcare hospital officials “are talking back and forth” about increasing hospital capacity for COVID-19 patients.

He said the hospital is anticipating a surge in the next two weeks.

Hospital CEO Eric Lewis said in a later interview that the tents would be used to separate patients with respiratory symptoms common to COVID-19 cases from those without them.

The two categories of patients will enter the hospital through separate doors. Once inside, respiratory patients will be further screened.

“The tents are part of our surge plan,” Lewis said.

“We are preparing for a surge, because it’s coming.”

OMC has 67 beds set up to handle coronavirus patients and plans to increase that capacity to up to 110 “and we are looking beyond that,” Lewis said.

Sixty more hospital beds can fit into OMC’s new medical office building, he added.

The average daily census at the hospital is 45 patients. Tuesday the count was 30.

“The good news is that each hospital is not an island unto itself,” Lewis said of area health care facilities.

“The key is the public.

“There are 75,000 people in Clallam County who need to take this seriously.

“If you are sick, stay home, observe your social distancing, wash your hands.

“It we all do the right things, I think we’re going to be in great shape.”

Cameron said he spoke to area law enforcement about Inslee’s stay-at-home order, including Sequim and Forks officials.

“Everyone is looking at this as an educational step,” he said

“We’re not going to go out and arrest a lot of people, but we’re going to be on the lookout.

“I’m hoping against hope that we don’t have any further restrictive orders.”

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum said park trails are open but that overnight back-country use is not allowed.

Her message to non-residents: Now might not be the time to come to the Olympic Peninsula, she said.

“We are essentially locking gates to everything in the park that can be locked,” she said.

Some toilets will be maintained.

“But our outward facing message is that we’re going to be closed,” Creachbaum said.

Port Angeles Police Chief Brian Smith said voluntary compliance will be key to the stay-at-home order and a ban on large gatherings working as they should.

Sheriff’s Office Chief Criminal Deputy Brian King said a violation would be a misdemeanor crime with no specific bail amount, which would typically $1,000 or $1,500 bail.

“That’s not our focus or effort,” King said.

“Certainly, if we were to contact a group of individuals who were congregating in violation of the order, our [effort] would be to get them to disperse and move on.”

Other participants included Forks City Attorney-Planner Rod Fleck, who said the City Council passed an emergency declaration Monday night and that the city emergency operations center opened Tuesday with daily hours of 9:45 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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