County wrestles with lifting restrictions

Posted 5/6/20

The Board of Health will convene in a special meeting at 5 p.m. on May 7 with county commissioners and Port Townsend City Council members to discuss whether Jefferson County can move forward into the state’s “Phase 2” of reopening businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

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County wrestles with lifting restrictions

Posted

The Board of Health will convene in a special meeting at 5 p.m. on May 7 with county commissioners and Port Townsend City Council members to discuss whether Jefferson County can move forward into the state’s “Phase 2” of reopening businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

During a press conference May 1, Gov. Jay Inslee surprised county officials with news that while the state would not be lifting the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order on May 4, 10 counties in Washington—Jefferson, Garfield, Columbia, Ferry, Pend Oreille, Lincoln, Wahkiakum, Skamania, Kittitas and Grays Harbor—could loosen restrictions sooner than the rest of the state.

It is up to local jurisdictions, including the county’s Department of Health, Board of Health, and county commissioners to decide if Jefferson County will lift restrictions.

“We had about five minutes’ warning before the governor’s press release on Friday afternoon,” commissioner Kate Dean said. “Given the national media and public outrage over this issue, I immediately felt anxious at the enormity of this decision.”

Washington as a whole moved into the governor’s first phase of lifting restrictions on May 5. This includes allowing some outdoor recreation, such as hunting, fishing, golf, boating and hiking. It also allows construction to resume under agreed-upon safety measures, as well as landscaping, automobile sales, car washes and pet-walking. Drive-in spiritual services are also allowed.

The next phase, which Jefferson County could move to immediately, allows outdoor recreation such as camping and going to beaches with fewer than five people, social gatherings of no more than five people, and limited non-essential travel within proximity of one’s home.

It also allows certain businesses to reopen, including manufacturing, new construction, domestic services, retail, real estate, professional services, hair and nail salons and restaurants at less than 50% of normal capacity and with tables that seat five people or less.

“There are people here and everywhere across the country with such strong opinions and feelings: that we should open up, allow the economy to resume and let the virus work its way through or that we should absolutely stay on lock-down until there is a vaccine,” Dean said. “Most people fall clearly to one side of this argument or another, and I know that trying to find an informed, nuanced solution would be tough and still ultimately offend a lot of Jefferson County residents. I suspect it will be the hardest decision I’ve made to date in this job.”

There are many factors that go into deciding whether to lift some restrictions.

“It’s not a simple process,” said Tom Locke, Jefferson County’s public health officer. “It’s a thorough one, and it is very much evidence-based. We paid a huge price to get as far as we are, and we don’t want to lose ground.”

No decisions have been made whether to proceed, Locke said. The May 7 meeting of the Board of Health will be a “scoping meeting” to discuss how to make the most community-minded decision.

“We want the community to be united on this,” he said. “We’re thinking it will be a two-week process at the shortest.”

Other counties are eager to reopen, he said. For example, Kittitas County had its board of health meet and submit a plan to move to Phase 2 on May 4.

If the county chooses to proceed, there are specific processes that must be followed.

The public health officer must make a recommendation to the board of health, which will vote on the plan in an open public meeting. The seven-person board consists of the three county commissioners, Pamela Adams who represents the city council, Kees Kolf who represents the Jefferson Healthcare board of commissioners, and citizens-at-large Sheila Westerman and Dennis Stearns.

After the Board of Health approves a plan, the Board of County Commissioners must vote to approve or deny the plan. It will then be submitted to the state’s Department of Health for review. The plan must include input from Jefferson Healthcare.

A key factor to opening up businesses and social gatherings is having a higher testing capacity. According to Amy Yaley, communications director at Jefferson Healthcare, the hospital is now capable of processing tests in its lab.

“This allows us to do rapid testing for patients who need to be hospitalized and urgent procedures,” she wrote in an email response to questions from the Leader. “If we can eliminate them as COVID-positive, it will assist us in ensuring safety of care for our patients and employees as well as proper PPE conservation.”

Dean said she’d like to know what authority the commissioners have to limit out-of-county visitors and whether the county can enforce measures such as requiring masks to be worn in stores.

“How do we open up parts of the economy without signaling to people that they still must be practicing behaviors such as distancing and sanitizing, when we are already seeing people tire of this and comply less?” Dean said. “Are there ways to re-open that don’t put low-income people at greatest risk? Many service jobs are low wage, don’t have benefits and require a lot of exposure to the public. Many businesses don’t want to open due to these risks.”

Jefferson County’s aging population and tourism-based economy could increase the risk of transmission and strain on hospital services.

Opening up businesses and recreation opportunities might provide incentives for residents outside the county to violate the state’s non-essential travel ban and come to Jefferson County, Locke said.

Right now, Jefferson County has 28 confirmed coronavirus cases. This has not changed for more than 25 days.

In the United States, the number of cases has climbed past 1 million. In the state, there are more than 15,000 cases.

“We’re definitely in the post-surge phase of this first wave of the coronavirus pandemic,” Locke said.

But lifting restrictions too early could lead to a new, greater spike in cases, he added.

“We’re a nation that’s getting very tired of being in quarantine,” he said. “A number of states are loosening their restrictions or abandoning them altogether. … You risk making all your sacrifice for nothing.”

Locke said he does not want Jefferson County to be an “uncontrolled experiment” in reopening early.

“People who don’t believe in science are going to have to discover the hard way that communicable diseases don’t care what your beliefs or political ideologies are,” he said.

Comments

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MK Faria

Since this article ended with a nod to science, preceded by a paragraph referencing uncontrolled experiments, I would like to point out that lifting restrictions on some counties but not others is by definition a controlled experiment, though perhaps not in the sense intended by Mr. Locke. Counties remaining under restrictions would be the controls. Counties lifting or altering restrictions earlier would indeed form the experimental arm, no matter what cautions are placed.

Wednesday, May 6
Marge samuelson

People are flocking to the Lakes in JC, with their families, out of work, no school, been locked in for six weeks, I can feel their pain. But, we will see in about two or three weeks if their is a spike in coronovirus victims. I guess Jefferson County is one of the guinea pigs. I wonder if we are being punished for being so careful with the quarantine?

Wednesday, May 6
David Thielk

This once in a 100 year pandemic offers a great opportunity to re think our economy. It is self evident that as Jefferson County opens back up, bored and restless citizens from counties that are still struggling with corona virus will come up here to party. While we are ready to reclaim our own economy, I don't believe we are ready for an onslaught of visitors and the potential setbacks in corona virus infections.

Further, 2020 is projected to have an 8% global decline in carbon emissions, directly as a result of corona virus. This is epic. For Jefferson County, driving around in cars is the most significant contribution to our carbon footprint. For data, see last week's article on our carbon inventory. For Jefferson County, it is all about cars, driving, and tourists. I will say it more directly: Our focus on tourism is keeping our carbon footprint here in the county very high.

I understand we have many tourist based businesses. But there is both data and opportunity to change the way we do business. We need to move towards an economy that is based on local interdependence, and move away from one in which we rely on tourists coming here, or driving down 101 in cars.

Regardless of what we may believe about the local economy, we are not "dependent" on tourists to be strong and resilient. To say that we are is an oxymoron. Economic strength and resilience is built around local interdependence, a housing market that matches wages, a supply of goods and services that are generated by local residents for consumption by local residents, and most important, working towards a diverse demographic.

I support opening up our economy. But it must be done, at least for now, without tourists coming here from counties that do not have corona virus under control. I encourage all of our county commissioners to do everything in their power to keep visitors until the country as a whole is at the same place we are with respect to rate of infections. That is in the short term. For the long term, I strongly advise moving away from a tourist economy.

Wednesday, May 6
HarveyW

What a great situation to bring out the "them and us" and lazy superficial thinking in some. One must address tribalism in this and so many situations. First, "Tourists" for some do not exist. My term is visitor. It is an industry David. The tech industry can destroy pastoral home towns. You can see it on the East Side. The visitor industry, if managed with thought and care can be less invasive than even tech.

From up the hill, or across the county or world I meet thousands of visitors to my business. In my 25 years here my business has evolved to serve "locals" and "others" in a real time, you can lose your ass, your life savings is at stake world, that I am a player in. Diversity is the answer. No one thing is the answer. Unless you are a lazy thinker who will take no risks and do nothing apart from the herd.

Most "locals", or someone in their family history were once "visitors". Of course no one waving the local flag has "tourists" in their wood pile. The 3 time appointed mayor is a "Southern California" person, now a self proclaimed "local". We, like this virus, go where we want and often don't see ourselves as invasive.

Carbon and cars are a huge issue. Port Townsend is not an island nor an independent nation. Think globally act locally is the old saying. David's road heading in, that he wants to protect, is the same road he and others need to take to get out. One answer is to get out your lawn chairs and shotguns and block the road. A better plan is to have consistent planning, prior to and during this unique situation. Life is a two way street.

So, for me personally, with my life savings draining away, I must go with "everyone welcome, sorry we have to wait a while longer before we can open". That goes equally for "tourists" "locals" or whatever tag you need to apply to your fellow humans to tribe up and feel secure.

I may not open when and if the "official" position is that it is "safe". A major restructuring of how we host visitors is needed. "Safe" is a thousand decisions by tens of thousands of people who will "visit" Port Townsend in the coming months and years.

Local politics, including no parking plan or enforcement, show lazy self serving thinking. The mayor and city manager say "we are all in this together". What was that start date? My problems with the city have been special interest appointed mayors and lazy thinking council members rubber stamping stupidity, as I have for years tried to put forth that indeed "we are all in this together". That seems to be a new buzz phrase not really understood by Appointed Mayor Sandoval and City Manager Mauro. It has always been the case, and distorted and ignored.

So, if you have all the answers to get to "a housing market that matches wages, a supply of goods and services that are generated by local residents for consumption by local residents, and most important, working towards a diverse demographic", I invite you to become a player and not a sideline coach. Invest your life savings and time. Many of us do.

Do something real and risky. But remember "working towards a diverse demographic" might entail "tourists" falling for what is indeed special here, despite tribalism and special interests, and moving here to replace those moving on . It has always been that way no matter the verbiage you use.

Lazy thinking. Simple answers. I don't have simple answers. I don't think opening a few weeks earlier for short term money and business, or the potential for it, is worth anyone's life. This opinion is from someone with a stake in the "visitor" game. Stop saying "tourist" it says you don't understand much.

People will soon flock here and to many less crowded places. The Chamber and other cheerleader groups really are not the driving force. Port Townsend is known and a traditional destination for visitors and snowbirds, many coming here for decades and many eventually moving here.

Visitors I personally know which number in the thousands will be here soon. Will we all have a plan to be ready? Masks, hand sanitizer on every corner, educational information readily available? It is my only option, and one that everyone should understand. In due time we will work this out. There should be no "them and us".

Them and us. It echoes through history as a negative driving force, as even teachers repeat the chant. Be mindful of all you do. The big picture falls into place when that is done. Have faith in people. Be a person others can have faith in. Demand the best from your public servants. Pay attention. No lazy thinking with general buzz phrase answers you expect others to figure out and implement.

Thursday, May 7
Justeks Hale

>

Oh, you mean like how you and every other downtown business, already have/has literature and signage in your shops and windows, about what to do in case of an earthquake? Is that the *level of concern for visitors and locals alike*, that you are speaking of?

Or are you maybe you haven't noticed the lack of concern exhibited by the amount of people *already* walking and exercising on a daily basis downtown and in the neighborhoods who are NOT wearing masks?

Furthermore, there are some 200 full-time residents of downtown (above the shops.) Some of them are disabled, elderly, and/or medically fragile. Are you and all the other businesses of downtown PT going to take them into consideration with this plan, as well? Or are the residents of downtown just going to be sacrificed to the tourism economy???

| Thursday, May 7
HarveyW

If you want to argue, be sure you are not on the same page as the person you are arguing with. Seems you missed most of what I am saying. Please re read. Sorry if I am not clear. I am not sacrificing anyone including myself or my employee to be "sacrificed to the tourism economy?. I also explained that locals are a huge part of my business. Them and us is a great tool for some. Bottom line is that as you say, many people are not concerned, have problems with any authority, and as you just did, miss details. I said I may not open when and if allowed if all things are not in place. My responsibility for my space is all I can really control.

By the way, if you checked you might see that the growing numbers of folks living above shops and running offices has grown due to the real estate benefiting practice of deconstructing parking enforcement and studies. Your 3 time appointed real estate agent mayor and city manager she oversees are responsible. You see, "Just Exhale", many are not able to have lineal conversations or lineal thought, tribalism and groupthink are real. Please don't distort my points. I will reply. Just Inhale my thoughts, and reply point by point. Don't mask them off anonymously.

Friday, May 8