UPDATE | Jefferson County sees ‘light at the end of the tunnel’

Brian Kelly, Nick Twietmeyer, Alli Patton
Posted 2/18/21

Brian Kelly, Nick Twietmeyer and Alli Patton Port Townsend Leader


Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement that Jefferson County can move into Phase 2 of the Roadmap to Recovery COVID-19 …

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UPDATE | Jefferson County sees ‘light at the end of the tunnel’


Brian Kelly, Nick Twietmeyer and Alli Patton
Port Townsend Leader

Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement that Jefferson County can move into Phase 2 of the Roadmap to Recovery COVID-19 reopening plan inspired happy relief Thursday across the county.

The governor announced in a press conference the Northwest region — comprised of Jefferson, Clallam, Kitsap, and Mason counties — would move to Phase 2 along with the East, North, North Central, and Southwest regions on Monday.

“We just opened up 92 percent of the state of Washington,” Inslee said.

Moving into Phase 2 allows restaurants and bars to reopen for indoor service to 25 percent capacity, and also loosens restrictions for social gatherings and sporting events.

“I’m glad that the governor and Department of Health feel that it is safe enough for Jefferson County to go to Phase 2,” Jefferson County Commissioner Kate Dean said Thursday.

“We have worked hard to be one of the safest counties in the state throughout COVID. The trick will be staying that way as we slowly move toward re-opening,” she said.

Jefferson County has had 323 COVID-19 cases through Wednesday since the pandemic started. Two people in the county have died from the disease, and 23 residents have been hospitalized.

“I’m especially glad that kids can return to sports and activities. My family will still stick to outdoor eating and socializing for now, but with most of our grandparents getting vaccinated, there is light at the end of the tunnel, at last!” Dean added.

State Rep. Mike Chapman said it’s been a long wait for local residents to move to Phase 2.

“I am happy to hear the 24th Legislative District constituents can begin their road to recovery on their local economy in their communities,” the 24th District lawmaker said.

“I commend Gov. Inslee with his decision to move the remaining areas of Western Washington into Phase 2. Families and friends in the 24th have waited far too long for this announcement, and I hope they are feeling relief and joy that they can have some normalcy back in their lives starting next week,” Chapman said. 

Chapman, along with Sen. Kevin Van De Wege and Rep. Steve Tharinger, the 24th District’s two other elected leaders in Olympia, had earlier criticized Inslee’s Roadmap to Recovery had led to “senseless punishment of counties with low COVID-19 rates.”

The plan was changed earlier this year to clump counties together into eight regions for advancement into phases with fewer COVID restrictions.

The three lawmakers said the change in reopening metrics for businesses had “left Clallam and Jefferson counties at a standstill for no good reason.”

Chapman said Thursday he would continue to press for more flexibility in the reopening plan as the community response to the coronavirus improves.

“As more people in our communities get vaccinated, vacancy in local ERs becomes more consistent, my colleagues and I will continue to push for fewer restrictions,” Chapman said.

“Continue to mask up and stay optimistic. We are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he added.

Van De Wege said the announcement was welcome news and praised the sacrifices made by residents to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

“This is welcome news and the kind of relief my seat-mates and I have been urging for our communities for some time now,” Van De Wege said.

“Jefferson and other counties in our district have been doing a solid job of making the sacrifices to contain the virus and deserve the chance to show we can reopen safely and responsibly,” he added. “I wish this decision had come sooner, but I’m glad it came today rather than tomorrow or next week or next month.”

“It’s the news our businesses needed,” Van De Wege said.

Port Townsend City Manager John Mauro asked people to continue to stay safe as the COVID-19 crisis continues.

“This feels good, but I’ll say that with a caveat because, clearly, we can go backwards,” Mauro said. “Unless we’re prepared to do the work, we’ll squander this opportunity to bring back the welcomed business and restaurant scene.”

Mauro added that the new phase would allow Port Townsend to begin re-opening certain city facilities, but again stressed the fact that these services can only remain as long as residents remain vigilant.

“You can blow it,” Mauro said. “Dear community, let’s keep on pulling together and have the benefits of a phased reopening without the threat of more COVID transmission.”

With that said, Mauro noted that Port Townsend has done a fantastic job of adhering to safety protocols throughout the pandemic.

“We’ve done really well; people kind of know the drill,” the city manager said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in this community.”

“Our residents and businesses have worked very hard to be compliant with Phase One regulations, so I’m very glad they’ll be rewarded somewhat for their efforts,” added Port Townsend City Councilmember Pamela Adams.

Jefferson Healthcare Commissioner Dr. Kees Kolff was careful to note that despite the fact that Inslee gave the OK to move to Phase 2, the decisions of local officials remain paramount.

“Although the governor might open up things to Phase 2, it is our public health officer, the Board of Health and ultimately the county commissioners who make the final decision as to what parts of Phase 2 we think are most important to implement here in order to meet our own local priorities and our own safety concerns,” Kolff said.

Kolff added that he didn’t think the phase shift would have a huge impact on his own personal habits, at least in the near term.

“I’m in a pretty tight bubble with my grandchildren and so anything I do has got to be approved by my whole bubble,” he said. “I’ve gotten used to the level of restrictions with which we are living and I personally would like to see us get the numbers get even lower.” 

Some community leaders are asking the public to continue to use precautions to stay safe.

“I know the businesses in our community are going to be relieved. I’m personally relieved,” said County Commissioner Heidi Eisenhour.

“I would just ask people to continue wearing your masks, keep your hands clean, keep social distancing,” she said.

“We’re kind of all in this together as a state, as a nation, as a world, so where you draw the line is somewhat arbitrary but I would say Jefferson County as a whole, we’ve really hung together here,” Mauro said. “We know that we’ve got to do the work to get to the other side. I get the sense that that’s not universal in other communities, so being batched in with other counties is somewhat problematic, because that means we can’t actually be rewarded for our due diligence and our good behavior.” 

Mauro added that since the pandemic kicked off only shortly after his arrival in Port Townsend, he was looking forward to finally being able to get out and sample some of the local fare. 

“I don’t think I’ve gone out to eat in — I don’t know how long,” he said. “I think we’ll probably go out to eat.” 

“We’re a community of survivors,” Mauro said. “The business community has been tenacious, they’ve been creative, they’ve been collaborative … and I really laud their efforts to stay alive.” 

“I’ve got to say these establishments pulled out all the stops to just stay alive and I’m hoping we’re more toward the end of the tunnel,” Mauro said. “If some of those go away, our whole quality of life here changes, so hats off to their tenacity.”


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