PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County has been approved for early Phase 2 opening.
The variance will allow the limited reopening of some businesses, such as the maritime industry, office workers, hair and nail salons, some retail and more construction, as well as some outdoor recreation.
Washington Secretary of Health John Wiesman approved variances for Jefferson, Cowlitz, Grant, Island, Mason, Pacific and San Juan counties on Saturday.
Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said on Saturday that it’s his understanding that the order takes effect immediately.
Many counties allow restaurants to open with up to 50 percent capacity. However, Jefferson wants to wait for Clallam and Kitsap to move to Phase 2 to allow the opening of indoor dining, Locke said, for fear that this could drive too much tourism toward the county.
Instead, takeout service will still be allowed and restaurants will be allowed to have some outdoor dining if they have facilities to do it. Locke said it’s possible some streets may be closed off in Port Townsend to allow restaurants to have additional outdoor dining.
Jefferson County also will not allow camping yet, waiting for Clallam and Kitsap to move to Phase Two first.
A total of 21 counties have now been approved to move to Phase 2 — Adams, Asotin, Columbia, Cowlitz, Ferry, Garfield, Grant, Grays Harbor, Island, Jefferson, Lewis, Lincoln, Mason, Pacific, Pend Orielle, San Juan, Skamania, Spokane, Stevens, Wahkiakum and Whitman.
Clallam, Kitsap and Thurston are eligible to apply for variances to move to Phase Two. Grays Harbor’s application for Phase 2 was approved Friday.
In Clallam County, Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank expects to present her recommendations for the county’s Phase 2 variance application to the Board of Health at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday. The special meeting will be live-streamed at www.clallam.net/features/meetings.html. Or call 408-419-1715 and join the video conference at www.bluejeans.com. The meeting ID is 508 427 895. Public comment and questions can be directed to 360-417-2377 or [email protected].
It took less than 24 hours for the state to decide on Jefferson’s application. The Jefferson County commissioners approved the application and it was submitted to Wiesman on Friday after weeks of deliberation and meetings.
The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the North Olympic Peninsula held steady Saturday at 55, with 30 in Jefferson County and 25 in Clallam County. There have been no deaths from COVID-19 on the Peninsula.
“These are the 25 cases that we know about,” said Unthank during her Friday morning briefing.
“Looking at other counties that have done more intensive surveillance of their population, we think this is probably about a tenth of the cases that are out there, so we probably had about 250 cases in Clallam County that we didn’t know about.
“It’s near impossible to catch everyone who has COVID-19,” Unthank continued.
”There will always some folks that we don’t know about and that’s why the social distancing measures are so key and so critical to our health moving forward.”
She added that, as many become frustrated with stay-home orders, she hears more comparisons between COVID-19 and the flu.
“This is about 200 times more deadly then the flu and it has a very high mortality rate,” Unthank said.
Inslee has outlined a four-phase “Safe Start” plan, with Phase 2 initially expected to begin June 1 statewide. However, that could be delayed, say public health officials.
To get approval for a variance to enter Phase 2 early, the county health officer must make a recommendation to the members of the county board of health, who will decide what parts of the recommendation they want to implement. Once they approve the plan, the application goes to the county commissioners for final approval before it is sent to Wiesman.
Jefferson County’s Phase 2 variance application included outdoor recreation involving fewer than five people outside of a household and excluding all overnight camping, gatherings with no more than five people outside of a household per week and masking encouraged if social distancing cannot be maintained.
Visitors from high-prevalence areas are strongly discouraged. Graduation activities that are consistent with the Phase 2 limitations and state guidance criteria, including use of drive-in theater facilities, are specifically allowed.
Essential travel and limited nonessential travel for Phases 1 and 2 are permissible activities under the recommendations. Out-of-area tourism is strongly discouraged until a Regional Phase 2 implementation.
Phase 2 would allow businesses such as manufacturing (non-essential repair, maritime industry and others), additional construction phases, in-home domestic services (nannies, housecleaning, etc.), professional services/office-based business (telework strongly encouraged), pet grooming (pre-existing customers), hair and nail salons/barbers (pre-existing customers).
Overnight camping will be allowed when Clallam County implements Phase 2. Activities such as sit-down service in restaurants, expanded real estate and in-store retail purchases will be allowed once both Clallam and Kitsap counties implement Phase 2.
“Everybody wished that we could do some things faster, but the reality is when you look around the country and even around the world, there are a lot of concerns that people are moving too fast in places,” said David Sullivan, district 2 commissioner.
“I feel like this is a responsible response considering the level of knowledge that we have that is still growing about this virus.”
Both Jefferson and Clallam counties are now testing anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 who request the test.
Patients must call for appointments to be tested, In Jefferson County, they call 360-344-3094. In Clallam County, they must call their primary care provider. If they do not have a provider, they can call 360-582-2930 in Sequim, 360-565-0550 in Port Angeles and 360-374-6998, ext. 2, on the West End between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
In Clallam County, 2,066 people have been tested for COVID-19. Of those, 1,999 tests have returned negative and 42 tests are pending, for a positive percentage of 1.2, Unthank said.
Nineteen people have recovered in Clallam County and 28 have recovered in Jefferson County, officials said.
In Jefferson County, 1,381 people have been tested for COVID-19. Of those, 1,342 have returned negative and nine tests are pending, for a positive percentage of 2.2, according to Jefferson County Public Health.
As testing capabilities continue to expand, Locke expects to see an uptick in cases. He said that rapid testing and following up with contact tracing will be crucial for moving past Phase 2.
Also necessary is for members of the public to wear masks, wash their hands and continue to practice social distancing, he said.
“The most important part is people have to take this seriously,” Locke said. “We can’t control this virus if people don’t do their part.”
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at [email protected].
Sports Editor Pierre LaBossiere contributed to this story.