Health officers urge caution on Fourth; Clallam adds two COVID-19 cases

North Olympic Peninsula health officers are urging caution during the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

They said Thursday they encourage residents to celebrate only with their household members and to take care if lighting consumer fireworks — which are legal with restrictions in incorporated counties and in Forks.

Clallam County had two more confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, not connected to either of the two outbreaks, and Jefferson County had one case added to its count, although that may be removed after more investigation, officials said.

The total for the two Peninsula counties on Thursday was 83.

Both counties’ health officers are concerned about large groups congregating. They recommend keeping gatherings small, wearing masks when social distancing isn’t possible, and getting together outdoors with people distanced from each other.

“As much as possible, we’re encouraging people to stay home and celebrate with your own household, but if you do gather, make sure it’s outside and distanced,” said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.

“Also, be safe if you send off fireworks. That’s something we always care about,” she said. “Our hospitals have enough on their hands without having to deal with that.”

Clallam County had 44 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Thursday, with two more added from local cases. None are currently hospitalized, Unthank said.

Jefferson County had 39 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Thursday; however, the newest case may be moved to King County’s count, as the person is believed to live in that county and only visits Jefferson County, said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.

This last week, Unthank and other public health officials have been investigating two outbreaks at the Olympic Medical Center and Serenity House in Port Angeles, Unthank confirmed Thursday.

Unthank’s team found out about the first case at Serenity House on Sunday and tested all 114 staff members and clients on Monday, Unthank said.

Through that round of testing, only one other case was found, Unthank said.

“I think that really is a testament to the infection-control work they were doing already before we got there, and to the rapid contract tracing to make sure it didn’t spread any further,” Unthank said.

“Similar outbreaks in other cities has led to up to 80 cases, so we’re very hopeful that this testing showed so few positives.”

COVID-19 has an incubation period of up to two weeks, and because of that, Unthank will oversee another round of testing on Monday and is helping the facilities with further infection protocols, she said.

“We’re very hopeful given the early testing results and the infection-prevention work that Serenity House was doing and the spacing that was made possible by the shelter is going to prevent a more severe outbreak,” Unthank said.

Testing of the OMC outbreak of 398 people was completed, and the tests sent out on Wednesday and Thursday, she said.

About 55 tests results were returned on Thursday. All were negative but the rest are pending, Unthank said.

So far it has been “good news” in regard to the outbreak, she said.

Unthank and her team plan to keep working with them on their infection prevention.

“But we are hopeful that these will be well controlled quickly,” Unthank said.

Jefferson County

The newest case for Jefferson County is a male in his 20s who acquired the infection in King County. It is believed he lives there, but is isolating in Jefferson County, Locke said.

The case was added to Jefferson County’s totals by the state, but Locke believes it may be removed and listed as a King County case since the patient spends more time there, he said.

“We don’t care so much what county the cases are assigned to,” Locke added.

“Anyone who is in Jefferson County, we will do whatever it takes to investigate the case and make sure we’re doing all the right things in preventing spread of the infection.

“Ultimately, it’s likely that that person will be removed from our count because he is not a resident. He’s just visiting here in effect.”

Jefferson County applied to enter Phase 3 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start” plan on Monday. As of Thursday, Locke had not heard anything from the state.

“I am certainly not anticipating anything before the Fourth of July holiday,” Locke said. “And given some of the trends, it’s even conceivable that the state Department of Health may put Phase 3 on hold for awhile for all counties, or at least ones where there’s kind of an upswing in activity and that characterization applies to … Clallam, Jefferson and Kitsap.”

Locke pointed out that Jefferson is unique compared to the other two counties in the fact that the eight cases that Jefferson added in June were not due to outbreaks and were solo or household cases, he said.

Locke expressed concern that disease activity is rising across the state due to people ignoring safety measures such as social distancing, masking and avoiding large groups.

“If people want to reopen businesses in their community, they have to do it in a way that is sustainable,” Locke said.

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