Will the new Jefferson County virus case affect waiver?

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County commissioners are expected to discuss today how a positive case reported Friday night might affect the county’s application to the state for a waiver from Gov. Jay Inslee’s Phase 1 restrictions on economic activity.

No additional cases were reported in Clallam or Jefferson counties this weekend, although Clallam County Undersheriff Ron Cameron reported Friday he had observed an increase in traffic since Inslee lifted some of the park restrictions last week.

County parks have largely reopened for day use, and that includes Dungeness Spit, a federal recreation area.

Olympic National Park has some very limited reopenings, but most of the major national park sites, such as Rialto Beach or Hurricane Ridge, remain closed.

The positive case in Jefferson County has been identified as a woman in her 90s who was hospitalized at Jefferson Healthcare hospital, said county Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke.

Locke said Sunday the woman remained in stable condition.

Jefferson County is one of 10 rural counties in the state that was given the option of applying for a waiver from Phase 1 restrictions before May 31. That could allow some businesses to reopen a couple of weeks earlier than others.

However, one of the criteria is a county must not have had any cases within at least two weeks. Friday’s confirmed case in Jefferson County came after the county began its process of applying for a waiver.

Locke said Jefferson County Public Health will be checking with the state today to see how that might affect the county’s application. He said Kittitas County, which has had new cases in the past week, was still allowed to apply for a waiver.

Clallam and Mason counties also are showing interest in a waiver — although neither were included in the original 10 counties — and have had recent confirmed cases.

Locke said it’s possible Friday’s case could end the county’s request for a waiver, but that’s not likely to be the case.

“I don’t think that’ll be their answer,” he said. “I think they’re open to other criteria.”

Locke said Jefferson is asking the state to rely on methodologies, such as the relatively low prevalence of cases in the county — 29 cases out of a population of 32,000 — rather than whether a single case has shown up in the past two weeks.

“Keeping it at zero cases indefinitely is not realistic,” he said.

The Board of Jefferson County Commissioners will receive a COVID-19 update during their Zoom meeting at 9:45 a.m. today.

Locke said he will focus on reopening strategies in the discussion, and he expects a discussion about the new case and how that might affect the county’s application.

“I’m sure that’ll be their first question,” he said.

Locke said the state Secretary of Health will ultimately make the decision regarding Jefferson County’s waiver, but the governor’s office and state Department of Health all will be involved in the process.

Visitation

Locke agreed with Cameron, noting an uptick in traffic between Port Angeles and Port Townsend. He said he’s also seen RVs on the road, which he hadn’t seen for a while.

Locke said he isn’t concerned with more visitors coming to the North Olympic Peninsula. He’s more concerned with their behavior once they’re here.

“My concern is what are they doing? Are they observing physical distancing? Then, it’s fine,” he said.

Clallam County Health Officer Allison Unthank also said social distancing matters most.

“The outdoors interaction is less dangerous than the indoors,” she said.

Unthank suggested if people encounter packed parking lots at parks, they should find another place to go hiking or do other outdoor activities. She also pointed out it’s still recommended that people avoid long-distance travel.

Clallam County has worked to get the word out on Seattle-area television stations that the ocean beaches are still closed.

Locke also had a concern about a trend in which some people simply don’t want to take safety measures, perhaps even for political reasons. He said he hasn’t seen that so much locally, but he’s seeing it nationwide.

“There’s a problem with people pushing back,” he said. “They think they can’t get this or spread the virus to someone else. Microbes don’t care what your beliefs are.”

Both counties will hold COVID-19 updates today. Jefferson County’s will begin at 9:45 a.m. and can be viewed at www.tinyurl.com/JeffCoCOVIDmeet. Clallam County’s will begin at 10 a.m. and can be viewed at www.tinyurl.com/ClallamCoCOVIDmeet.

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