Why Jefferson County is not applying for Phase 2 right away

May 9, 2020, 7:32 AM | Updated: May 11, 2020, 10:49 am
Jefferson County...
Home to Port Townsend, Jefferson County is popular with tourists. (Nicole Jennings/KIRO Radio)
(Nicole Jennings/KIRO Radio)

Of the 10 counties that Governor Jay Inslee’s office identified as eligible to apply to bypass Phase 1 of the state’s reopening, five counties have been accepted and another three applications are pending. But Jefferson County, although it meets the criteria, is pressing the pause button.

Three elected boards — the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners, Board of Health, and Port Townsend City Council — are taking input from community members before making a decision as to whether or not to apply.

Jefferson County Public Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said much of the wariness centers around the county’s likelihood of drawing visitors from infected areas — especially since much of the county’s population is vulnerable to COVID-19.

“Jefferson County, essentially, is just 56 miles from Seattle if you take a ferry,” Locke said. “And Jefferson County has the highest percentage of senior citizens in Washington state.”

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Home to Port Townsend and Olympic National Park, the county is known as a favorite weekend getaway for Puget Sound residents.

“Jefferson County is a very popular tourist destination, with a very scenic, historic Victorian town, a lot of coastline, and a nice climate,” Locke said.

If Jefferson County were to be the only county near Seattle to reopen early — the other five being located in Eastern Washington — Locke only sees the potential for visitors being amplified. Add in the beautiful May weather and the desperation to get outside after sheltering in place, and there’s a recipe for daytrippers galore.

Locke is worried cabin fever may not be the only fever they’d bring.

“It’s a problem now that downtown Port Townsend becomes crowded on the weekends with people coming to visit — even though very little is open,” he said.

Small businesses in towns like Port Townsend rely on tourists and are suffering while staying closed, but Locke said even those small business owners have been tremendously supportive of staying closed a while longer.

“Even though they have paid a very high price for flattening the curve, they also don’t want to lose the ground that they expensively purchased,” he said.

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Why Jefferson County is not applying for Phase 2 right away