Clallam County reports 14th death due to COVID-19; second death connected to church outbreak

Clallam County’s 14th death due to COVID-19 since the pandemic began was confirmed late Monday in connection with a large church outbreak that has had 24 people infected with the novel coronavirus.

The newest death is the second connected to the outbreak, said Dr. Allison Berry, Clallam County health officer. The victim was a man in his 70s who was unvaccinated and had no underlying conditions. He had been hospitalized out of the county, Berry said.

The man died Friday; county officials received the report of his death Monday evening, Berry said in a Tuesday phone interview.

“Any time we lose someone in our community, it’s a loss to the community as a whole,” she said.

The death brings to 18 the number confirmed due to COVID-19 on the North Olympic Peninsula. Jefferson County has reported four deaths.

The newest one brings the mortality rate of the unnamed church outbreak to 8 percent, Berry said.

It’s believed the man had contracted the Alpha variant of COVID-19, Berry said.

“That just really speaks to the severity of the new variants circulating,” she said.

Clallam County Public Health has been investigating two separate church outbreaks over the last few weeks: the large outbreak of 24 cases and now two deaths, and another outbreak at a smaller church with five confirmed cases, Berry said.

No new cases were confirmed over the weekend in connection with the outbreaks, she said.

Only one case in the larger outbreak was vaccinated. The person was elderly and has a suppressed immune system. However, the person suffered only a sore throat and has recovered. The remainder of the church outbreak cases are in those who are unvaccinated, Berry said.

Not getting tested

While Clallam County health department workers reached all known contacts regarding the church outbreaks, Berry believes some, especially in the smaller outbreak, are not getting tested for COVID-19, even if they have symptoms.

“It’s in a community where we’re seeing lower rates of testing,” she said.

“We know we don’t catch all of the COVID-19 cases in the country and the world, because some people never get tested, and we expect that that’s happening in this case as well.”

Clallam County confirmed eight new COVID-19 cases over the weekend, while Jefferson County confirmed three new cases, according to public health data.

Both Berry and Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer, continue to urge residents 12 and older to get vaccinated as soon as possible, to avoid the risks of being infected with COVID-19 and potentially becoming severely sick as a result.

Due to the more contagious variants of COVID-19 spreading throughout the nation, Locke believes herd immunity won’t be reached until 85 percent or more of the population are immune to COVID-19, either through vaccination or infection, he told the county commissioners Tuesday.

For people who are unvaccinated, “it’s very likely you’ll become infected with a variant,” Locke said, “probably not this summer, but in fall when conditions are more favorable.

“All pandemics end; they’re not a permanent thing,” he continued. “We want people to choose vaccination over infection, because infection is so much more dangerous.”

Clallam County has confirmed 16 COVID-19 cases so far this month as of Tuesday, about 1.08 percent of the 1,481 cases reported since the pandemic began, according to county data.

Jefferson County has confirmed COVID-19 cases so far this month as of Tuesday, about 0.66 percent of the 454 cases reported since the start of the pandemic, according to county public health data.

Thirty-five cases were active in Clallam County on Tuesday and five were hospitalized. Jefferson County had five active cases.

Both counties are in the state’s moderate-risk category with case rates of 64 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks as of Tuesday in Clallam County, and Jefferson County at about 34.48 cases per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Saturday.