Clallam, Jefferson counties each investigating COVID-19 outbreaks

Clallam and Jefferson counties are investigating outbreaks of COVID-19 that have arisen separately in recent days.

Clallam County is investigating an outbreak at a long-term care facility, and Jefferson County is investigating an outbreak among community members stemming from a gathering around Halloween, health officers said.

Three cases have been confirmed at the long-term care facility, but Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank would not name the facility because representatives there haven’t made a public statement.

“It’s relatively small right now,” she said. “The facility is working really closely with us to follow appropriate precautions to make sure and limit any additional cases, but we’re working very closely with them on that right now.”

Jefferson County’s investigation centers on mid-county, but no specific numbers were provided Monday. County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said more information is expected to be released next week once health officials learn more.

Clallam County’s total case count went up to 303 since March, with 20 active cases, two currently hospitalized and one death, according to county Public Health data.

The most recent cases have been traced to out-of-county transmission and household contacts of known cases, Unthank said.

Jefferson County confirmed two new cases Monday, raising its total count to 97 since March, with eight active cases and no deaths, Locke said.

Both counties are in the state’s moderate-risk category, with case rates of 36 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks in Clallam County and 34.5 per 100,000 for same period in Jefferson County, the health officers said.

Statewide case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise, with an average of 1,300 new cases a day statewide, Locke said.

Vaccine studies

Meanwhile, the race for a vaccine is looking more promising after Pfizer announced its product is showing high levels of efficacy.

Pfizer announced Monday that its messenger RNA vaccine is so far more than 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 in its preliminary efficacy results, and the company is expecting to apply to the Food and Drug Administration for licensing next week.

Once the vaccine is approved, it will be in limited supply, with frontline healthcare workers and first responders expected to be the first recipients, and then other high-risk groups prioritized until there is enough stock for general public, Pfizer stated in a press release.

Having a more than 90 percent effective rate is a promising sign, as the common influenza vaccine is seen as only 60 percent effective in years where it matches the dominant strain, Locke said.

Unthank is optimistic about the vaccine, but she said there will be additional evaluations to come.

“It’s very exciting, and we’re very excited about it,” she said. “Certainly we will want to verify that with peer review. The first study is just from the company itself, so it does need to be reviewed by physicians and epidemiologists to make sure those conclusions are accurate.

“But we’re certainly hopeful about those results.”

Pfizer’s vaccine study and trials are separate from the federal Operation Warp Speed that has been assisting with funding and streamlining vaccine research and trials to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, as Pfizer funded the study by itself, Locke said.

The earliest a vaccine may start being distributed in limited quantities is mid-December, and Locke expects it to be distributed on a prioritized basis until at least April 2021, when there may enough vaccine stock to begin to promote the vaccine for general population use, he said.

While no influenza cases have been confirmed yet on the North Olympic Peninsula, cold viruses are starting to crop up, and Locke urges anyone with a respiratory illnesses to get tested for COVID-19.

“Any respiratory illness is COVID-19 until proven otherwise,” Locke said. “We need to find that needle in the haystack.”