Gamma variant of COVID-19 discovered in Clallam County

The more contagious and severe Gamma variant of COVID-19 has been confirmed in Clallam County, health officials said Wednesday.

The Gamma variant, which originated in Brazil, is known to be more transmissible and to cause more severe illness among those infected in comparison with the original novel coronavirus.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials have classified it as a variant of concern.

It is believed to have been introduced into Clallam County by an unvaccinated resident who traveled out of state and then didn’t quarantine upon return before visiting with others, said Dr. Allison Berry, Clallam County health officer.

Several cases of the Gamma variant have been investigated. All are in connection with either the long-term care facility outbreak or the church outbreak that Clallam County has been investigating.

Berry declined to say which outbreak had cases of COVID-19 that are Gamma variant or how many cases have been confirmed.

“I can’t give you more information on that without the (outbreak) being identifiable, but one of our outbreaks was Gamma,” she said. “That one was associated with the initial case of travel, and so I think that highlights why we recommend that people quarantine when they travel out of state, because that’s when you pick up the variants at this point.”

Clallam County confirmed six new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. They were among West End residents and residents who traveled out of county, Berry said.

Jefferson County held steady with no new cases on Wednesday. Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer, was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Three Clallam County COVID-19 patients have been transferred out of Olympic Medical Center to hospitals in Kitsap and King counties, due to health complications, and needing additional medical care outside of what OMC can provide, Berry said.

Both Jefferson and Clallam counties are in the state’s moderate-risk category with case rates lower than 75 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks.

Berry doesn’t expect Clallam’s case rate to stabilize and consistently trend downward until the long-term care facility outbreak and the church outbreak are completed.

The long-term care facility outbreak of 17 people will be considered over if all residents continue to test negative during the next testing Friday, she said.

The facility hasn’t had a new case since June 10, while the church outbreak of 22 confirmed cases hasn’t added a new case since Monday, she said.

“If things continue the way they are, it appears both of our large-scale outbreaks appear to be wrapping up,” Berry said. “I’m cautiously optimistic that we will move back into the moderate range on a more stable basis, but it really just depends on what comes next.”

Vaccination clinics on the North Olympic Peninsula can be found at peninsuladailynews.com/news/gamma-variant-infections-increasing-statewide.

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.

Eighty-seven cases have been confirmed in June so far in Clallam County, about 6.05 percent of 1,438 cases reported since the pandemic began, according to county data.

Jefferson County has confirmed 28 cases this month, about 6.29 percent of the 445 total cases since the pandemic began, according to county data.

Twenty-nine cases were active in Clallam County on Wednesday with six hospitalized, three out of county, and one in the Intensive Care Unit at Olympic Medical Center.

Jefferson County had seven active cases and at least one hospitalization.

Clallam County has recorded 12 deaths due to COVID-19 while Jefferson County has recorded four.

Clallam County is in the state’s moderate-risk category with a case rate of 74 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks as of Wednesday.

Jefferson County is in the state’s moderate-risk category with a case rate of 68.97 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Saturday.

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