COVID-19 cases continue to rise on the peninsula

Health officials are continuing to monitor the rise in COVID-19 cases on the North Olympic Peninsula, with Clallam County confirming five new cases on Thursday, while Jefferson County confirmed two new cases.

The new cases bring Jefferson County’s COVID-19 case count to 107 since March, while Clallam County’s case count rose to 314 cases since March, according to county public health data.

Cases have been on the rise recently.

“We are certainly seeing an upsurge in cases,” said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.

The recent cases of the last week in Jefferson County have been a mix of in-county contacts and out-of-county transmission, said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.

Four of the cases confirmed Thursday in Clallam County are household members of prior confirmed cases, while the fifth is a staff member at a long-term care facility outbreak that has now had three staff members infected and one resident, Unthank said.

Unthank said she can’t identify the facility until it makes a public statement, but added that the staff is working to limit the spread of the virus.

Another round of facility-wide testing took place Thursday, she said.

“I think one of their biggest challenges is just staffing right now,” Unthank said. “Finding adequate staff for managing an outbreak.

“Most of our long-term care facilities had limited staffing before the pandemic, and then when we have to start isolating and quarantining people, that can make things get tight pretty fast.

“But so far they’re doing well and they’re working really closely with us to keep it under control.”

Both health officers are concerned with the rising case rates in both counties, with Jefferson County’s case rate rising to 56.4 new cases per 100,000 residents for the last two weeks, while Clallam County rose to 38 cases per 100,000 for the same time period, Locke and Unthank said.

Both counties are in the state’s moderate-risk category with case rates between 26 and 75 cases per 100,000 for the last two weeks.

Earlier both had been in the low-risk category.

In comparison, the statewide case rate is 145.2 cases per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Monday, according to the state’s risk assessment dashboard.

“We always look at trends in infections and the trend is very concerning to me, because unfortunately it’s what we expect. This is spinning out of control in other states,” said Locke, highlighting Idaho, Utah and Colorado as having significantly worse levels of COVID-19.

“We’re having people continuing to travel to those areas. We’re having people continue to have social gatherings and visits from family from all over the country and those things are getting more and more risky,” he continued.

“Although a lot of people are doing what they need to do avoid to infection, enough are — for whatever reason — deciding to ignore recommendations, and that’s driving outbreaks all over.”

Unthank believes that Peninsula residents can reverse the trend if they follow guidelines of social distancing, mask wearing, hand-washing and avoiding gatherings.

“We’re trending up, but not at the rate that we’re seeing in much of the rest of the state,” Unthank said. “I do think we are in a position where we can turn this around, but we’re going to need the whole community working together on that.

“Our team is certainly working around the clock on contact tracing. Our healthcare partners and our long-term care facilities partners are working very hard to contain infections and treat those who are sick.

“But, we need the rest of our community to be especially vigilant in their day-to-day activities. If we all do that, I do believe that we can turn this around.”

Both counties currently have one person hospitalized and only one death has been reported due to COVID-19 in Clallam County.