Six new COVID-19 cases were reported in Clallam County, raising its case rate to 81 per 100,000 people for the past two weeks, moving it into the state’s high-risk category and putting in-person schooling in jeopardy.
Jefferson County added no new cases Monday, keeping its total count since March at 59, while Clallam County rose to 167.
Fifty-one cases have recovered in Jefferson County, and 124 have recovered in Clallam County, according to county public health data.
All six cases identified Monday were locally transmitted, said Dr. Alison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.
Unthank said she is very concerned with the recent rise in cases — with 26 confirmed since Friday — because the possibility of hybrid in-person schooling for grade schools may not be safe if it continues.
The current case rate “puts (in-person schooling) in jeopardy,” she said. “I have a call with the superintendents (this week) … to make some plans, so we should have a formal decision shortly.
“But, if that (case rate) is persistent, that will likely lead to schools moving to all remote for the fall. Now, it depends on if it’s persistent. If it’s just one day, there is some room there, but this significant rise in cases puts schools opening in person in the fall in jeopardy.”
Jefferson County school districts are looking at hybrid plans with both in-person and online schooling, with plans being finalized during the next two weeks.
The case rate in Jefferson County was 15.7 cases per 100,000 people for the past two weeks, and Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke urged people to understand not following mask-wearing and social-distancing guidelines is not just a personal risk, it puts others at risk.
Locke likened it to “drunk driving” in that there is risk both to the individual and of harming others they could potentially infect.
He attributes Jefferson County’s lower case numbers to the higher adherence of mask wearing and social distancing, as well as a large population of high-risk community members.
“We have a high percentage of high-risk people, and I think that might help us take this more seriously,” he said.
Locke has been receiving questions on where new cases have been located in the county. However, due to a previously low number of cases, Locke did not distribute that information to protect the identities of the cases from being identified.
As cases in Jefferson continue to rise, Locke said there may be enough to safely start breaking them up geographically.
Clallam County lists cases by Sequim, Port Angeles and Forks/West End areas weekly.
The biggest driver for the rise in cases in Clallam County continues to be private gatherings and parties. However, several cases are related to the Port Angeles bar Bourbon West, which has temporarily closed for cleaning, Unthank said.
“In our investigation, we found that they were not following proper infection-prevention protocol,” Unthank said.
“So they are currently closed, and we’re working closely with their management to decide on if and when they can reopen, but that can only be when the investigation is complete, when everyone is out of quarantine, and when proper infection-protection protocols are in place.”
If Clallam County’s case rate stays above 75 per 100,000 people for more than a week, Unthank does not believe it would be safe to open in-person school.
“If we do have to do online schooling — which hasn’t been decided yet — I have also been working with the superintendents on what would be the trigger to resume in-person learning,” she said.
Unthank urges residents to take the pandemic seriously and follow the recommended protocols in regard to mask wearing, social distancing and avoiding gatherings.
“It’s past time to get serious about this virus,” she said. “We worked really hard to stay safe during the beginning of this pandemic as a community, and we really worked together to get that done.
“It’s incredibly disheartening and concerning to see all that good work slipping away, and we are in a perilous position where we could see this virus go rapidly out of control in our community.
“Each of us has the power to control this virus, but we have to make safe decisions.”
Clallam sees first COVID death
A Clallam County man in his 80s has died of COVID-19, the first death on the North Olympic Peninsula tied to the virus.
His death was announced on Aug. 14 by the Clallam County Department of Health.
The man had underlying health conditions, according to the county’s release.
“It was very clear from our interactions with this man’s family how deeply he was loved,” Unthank said. “We mourn with them today.”
Unthank said she could not release the community that the man lived in, but said that he lived alone independently and was not a resident of a nursing facility. He also had not been traveling recently, she said.
Two Port Angeles bar/eateries announced temporary closures on Friday because of a positive test tied to a bar and contact tracing for employees at the other business.
Unthank stressed that bars and restaurants in Clallam County were doing a good job with safety measures and maintaining social distancing within their businesses.
But going out to bars and restaurants carries some risk, because people have to remove their masks to eat and drink, she said.
“It’s inherently a dangerous environment when you’re eating; you’re taking your mask off,” she said.
Unthank reiterated that what has been a particular problem in Clallam County, which has seen a recent uptick of cases, is parties and gatherings.
“We can’t act like it’s normal yet. This virus will require small sacrifices,” she said.
Unthank said people going to parties and gatherings are not respecting the work of medical personnel and first responders who have to deal with COVID-19.
“I struggle with people who aren’t sacrificing,” she said. “It’s disrespectful to them to go to parties right now.”