Clallam County investigating COVID-19 cases at long-term care facility

Clallam County is investigating a new potential long-term care facility outbreak that has led to two residents and one staff member being infected with COVID-19.

While Clallam County is in the state’s moderate-risk category with a case rate of 42 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks, Jefferson County has returned to the state’s low-risk category with a case rate of 12.54 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Saturday.

The cases at the unidentified long-term care facility are confirmed, but it is necessary to also confirm transmission was at the facility in order to call it an outbreak, said Dr. Allison Berry, Clallam County health officer.

The residents of the facility are largely vaccinated — including the two now-infected residents. Vaccines often are less effective in preventing transmission in older people than in younger, but they still help limit the severity of symptoms if the disease is contracted, Berry said.

“The challenge that we see in these cases that very elderly and frail sometimes don’t mount as strong of (an immune) response to their vaccine, so they can become infected even when vaccinated,” she said. “So far all the cases are mild, and that’s the good thing we see within this age range.

“Even if they can get infected — even if they’re fully vaccinated — generally, the cases are quite mild, but we always take it seriously when we see COVID in a long-term care facility.”

Clallam County Public Health is working with the facility on the necessary protocols when responding to an outbreak, and the facility is “doing a great job following those protocols,” Berry said.

It’s believed that the novel coronavirus was brought into the facility — which Berry did not identify — by a visiting family member of one of the residents, she said.

“That’s the challenge, part of the reason why family visitors were so tightly restricted was because we know that’s how the virus can get in, but it’s also still critically important for the mental health of the residents that they have access to their families,” she said.

“It’s not enough to just vaccinate the residents of long-term care facilities, we need incredibly high vaccination rates among the staff, and then we also need to vaccinate the family and friends who will come to visit those facilities.”

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke agreed with Berry’s assessment regarding the effectiveness of the vaccines in the older population.

Vaccines are more effective in protecting against severe illness than in preventing it altogether, he said.

Both health officers continue to urge residents to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“People need to be reminding themselves that things are getting better, but the pandemic is not over yet,” Locke said. “People who are unvaccinated need to take extreme caution when they’re moving around in public places and especially where people from out of area are visiting.

“People should not be lulled into a false sense of security by our low case rates among county residents.”

The greater exposure risk for the COVID-19 is when traveling or having visitors from out of county, Locke said.

Jefferson County will have Johnson & Johnson vaccine available from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at Saturday’s Port Townsend Farmers Market on Tyler Street. Appointments can be made at prepmod.doh.wa.gov or by calling 360-344-9791. Walk-ins will also be accepted.

Clallam County Public Health is conducting two pop-up “shot and a beer” vaccination clinics at the Barhop Brewing and Artisan Pizza, 124 W. Railroad Ave., in Port Angeles. One is from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday for second-dose Moderna shots and also will offer the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The second clinic there is from 1-4 p.m. Monday.

People 21 and older who receive a shot at the Barhop events will be offered a free beer, Berry said.

The full calendar for pop-up clinics in Clallam County can be viewed at tinyurl.com/PDN-ClallamPopUps.

The state has a vaccination locator at vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov, which allows users to see where appointments are available and which vaccine will be used.

While all state residents 12 and older are eligible to be vaccinated, anyone younger than 18 can receive only Pfizer’s vaccine.

Clallam County confirmed three new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday — all part of the long-term care facility — and reported a total of 117 cases during May, about 8.66 percent of the 1,351 cases reported since the pandemic began, according to county data.

Jefferson County had no new cases Tuesday and a total of 27 cases were confirmed during May, about 6.47 percent of the 417 total cases confirmed since the pandemic began, Locke said.

Clallam County had two patients hospitalized for COVID-19 on Tuesday, and Jefferson County reported one.

Twenty COVID-19 cases were active in Clallam County, while Jefferson County had two active cases.

Clallam County is in the state’s moderate-risk category with a case rate of 42 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks, while Jefferson County is in the state’s low-risk category with a case rate of 12.54 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Saturday.

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