Health officers concerned about weekend political rally

Both Clallam and Jefferson counties remain in the state’s low-risk category

Both Clallam and Jefferson counties remain in the state’s low-risk category, with COVID-19 infection rates lower than 25 new cases per 100,000 population for the past two weeks.

The state Department of Health released a report last week stating its contact tracers have been having difficulty making contact with confirmed COVID-19 cases in a timely manner and/or people have been reluctant to share information.

That has not been the case with Peninsula public health departments, as contact tracers have been able to reach the majority of people involved with cases and their contacts, and people have been willing to share information, health officials said.

“By and large, people have been quite receptive to us,” said Dr. Allison Unthank, the Clallam County health officer. “We’ve really had much more success (than the state) when we call folks.

“I think it comes from hearing from someone local or someone who seems to know your story, seems to make it a little more acceptable to talk to us. I can only think of two cases where people were resistant to give us information of all the cases.

“We even had a case where the state said the person wouldn’t talk to them, so we called them back and they were willing to talk to our staff.”

The new case in Clallam County is suspected to have contracted the novel coronavirus through out-of-county exposure and is isolating at home, Unthank said.

Separately, the recent COVID-19 patient who was hospitalized in the county was discharged on Monday, she said.

Clallam County has had 236 COVID-19 cases since March, with eight active infections and one death, according to Clallam County Public Health data.

Clallam County’s rate is 17 cases per 100,000 for the past two weeks as of Monday, Unthank said.

Jefferson County hasn’t had a new case since an asymptomatic one was discovered Sept. 11 during a pre-procedural test, and it has had a total of 71 infections since March, with one active case and no deaths, said Dr. Tom Locke, the county health officer.

Jefferson County’s rate is 3.13 cases per 100,000 for the past two weeks, and it may drop to zero this week if no new cases are found, Locke said.

Both health officers are concerned about a possible uptick in cases as a result of the rally on behalf of Republican gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp on Sept. 19 at the Extreme Sports Park west of Port Angeles.

Reports indicated a crowd of more than 1,300 people who were largely unmasked and not following social distancing guidelines, although being outside may have provided some benefit to preventing spread of COVID-19, health officials said.

If either county sees cases that originate from the rally, they will most likely appear starting next week, and the counties will be monitoring for them for two additional weeks, Locke and Unthank said.

“At least the reports that we got, a lot of people were congregating, they were in close proximity, and they weren’t wearing masks,” Locke said. “That’s what causes outbreaks. If no one at that rally had COVID-19, then nothing will happen. If people were at the rally and were carrying the infection, then we can start to see cases.”

If someone did contract the virus at the rally, Unthank urges them to get tested and communicate with Peninsula health departments, saying they won’t be judged by staff for how they may have contracted it.

“We were helped by the fact that it was outdoors, but when you see large groups of people close together and unmasked, there is certainly a risk for transmission,” Unthank said. “If anyone gets sick who was at that rally, we will be more than happy to support you and take care of you.

“We don’t care how you got COVID-19, we just want to make sure that you’re safe,” she added. “If you did go to a gathering of any size that wasn’t distanced, it’s still really important to get tested, and you won’t be judged if you get a call from a contact tracer, no matter how you got it.”

County office closes after exposure

A Clallam County government office housing Department of Community Development, environmental health and public works employees that was shut down Monday was scheduled to re-open today after two cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed among county staff.

County Commissioners Chairman Mark Ozias said commissioners were expected to meet on Sept. 22 to discuss the office’s closure and “what the public can expect in terms of the operation of the courthouse and various departments of the courthouse.”

A sign posted on the first-floor office Monday notified the public that, “Out of an abundance of caution for everyone’s safety this department is closed because of a COVID-19 related exposure. This office will reopen Tuesday, September 22, 2020.”

Additional DCD and public works staff are in other areas of the courthouse that remained open for services.

Some courthouse offices remained closed to walk-in traffic but open to providing services. Law and justice offices remained open.

Unthank notified county staff of the COVID-19 cases in an email Monday at 12:18 p.m.

“The first case has been fully investigated and all of those who were exposed have been notified and received quarantine instructions,” she said.

“The second case is currently being investigated by the department of public health and all of those who were exposed will be notified and receive quarantine instructions by the end of the business day (Monday).

“These cases are unrelated and there is no evidence of transmission in county facilities at this time. There is additionally no evidence of any public exposures related to these cases at this time.”

Unthank said her office does not release information about the departments or workplaces of people diagnosed or infected “out of respect for the privacy rights of those diagnosed and exposed.”

County Administrator Rich Sill said Unthank ordered that the DCD-public works-environmental health section be closed.

Whether it reopens today “will be determined by her and her contact [tracing] staff,” Sill said.

“We will just wait and see.”

DCD Director Mary Ellen Winborn said she was self-quarantining Monday and would not comment on the level or nature of the exposure among the office’s employees. She had not been notified her office was scheduled to reopen today.

Ozias said he did not know of the COVID-19 exposure until after he arrived at the courthouse and saw that the office was closed.

A sign was placed notifying the public later Monday, he said.

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