Clallam County enters COVID-19 high-risk category

Clallam County has joined Jefferson County in the state’s COVID-19 high-risk category.

As of Tuesday, Clallam County had a case rate of 87 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks, while Jefferson County’s case rate was 100.31 cases per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Monday.

Clallam confirmed four new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, while Jefferson County confirmed two new cases, according to county health officers.

Clallam County Public Health is investigating four outbreaks in the county:

• A long-term care facility where the infection has now spread to 10 staff members and five residents.

• Two health care facilities where case numbers are unknown and still being investigated.

• A church outbreak in Sequim of three known cases with numbers expected to rise as parishioners are tested.

• An outbreak stemming from a social gathering.

Dr. Allison Unthank, county health officer, said she will not name a facility under an outbreak investigation unless the facility’s personnel make a public statement or the department is no longer able to contact trace all exposures.

“We do have the ability to notify any patients that were exposed and all staff members exposed,” Unthank said. “If we weren’t able to do that, we would have to release a public notification.”

Of the new cases in Clallam County, two are health care workers that are being investigated to see if their infection is connected to a known outbreak, while the other two are contacts of prior confirmed cases, Unthank said.

The two new cases in Jefferson County are contacts of prior confirmed cases, said Dr. Tom Locke, county health officer.

Number of deaths

The COVID-19 dashboard on the state Department of Health website lists three deaths in Clallam County.

Unthank said it is a reporting error and that she doesn’t know when it will be corrected.

“I’ve not heard from the state on when they’re going to correct the number of deaths,” she said in a text message Tuesday. “I suspect they’re overwhelmed and it has not become a priority.

“But, we do only have two deaths. We suspect it was a death of a King County resident that used to live here.”

A call to the state health department asking for clarification about the number of deaths was not returned.

Don’t relax vigilance

Locke urged vigilance against relaxing social distancing and mask wearing around close friends and extended family. Loosening adherence to precautions has led to several cases in the county, he said.

“People have been looking at their social groups as pods, and they’ve been treating people who they consider to be in their pod the same as if they were a household member,” Locke said.

“That was never a sanctioned or recommended practice, and now it’s turning into a very dangerous practice.

“People have been doing things for a long time that exposed them to COVID-19 risk, but because the level of disease has been low, they haven’t had any consequence,” he continued.

“They opened themselves up to infection, but that didn’t happen because there was no one around to spread it to them, and now that’s changed.”

While cases have been rising during recent weeks, it is possible to slow the spread over the next two to three weeks as the reinstated restrictions by Gov. Jay Inslee take effect, Locke said.

“The cases we’re seeing now are the results of behaviors from one to two weeks ago,” he said. “We’re expecting that these levels will persist at least until some of these new restrictions kick in.

“As a community — the communities of Clallam and Jefferson counties — we know how to turn this around. If people change their behaviors, if people start taking the masking and distancing and hand hygiene and households stop interacting socially … we can bring this under control over a two- to three-week period.”

Clallam County has confirmed 352 cases of COVID-19 since March, with 57 active cases, more than 300 people in quarantine due to exposure and two deaths, Unthank said.

Jefferson County has confirmed 125 cases of COVID-19 since March, with 22 active cases, more than 60 people in quarantine due to exposure and no deaths, Locke said.