Large gatherings in Clallam County result in COVID outbreaks

Two parties and a wedding, each with more than 30 attendees who were mostly unmasked and unvaccinated, are blamed for more than 100 residents being placed in quarantine in Clallam County.

“We are anticipating that we’re going to see some degree of a surge in the coming week related to those gatherings,” said Dr. Allison Berry, the county health officer.

Fourteen new cases were confirmed Thursday in Clallam County, all tied to the social gatherings, Berry said. Contacts who were possibly exposed are in quarantine, she added.

Four cases were added to Jefferson County’s total Thursday, but three were from up to two months ago and are not new active cases, said Dr. Tom Locke, county health officer.

The reason the three cases were added Thursday is because Jefferson County adopted the state’s policy of counting the rapid COVID-19 tests as confirmed cases. Before, they were considered “probable” cases and weren’t confirmed unless the person received a positive PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test, which is considered the “gold standard” for COVID-19 testing, Locke said.

The three social gatherings in Clallam County varied in size from more than 30 to more than 45 and were a mix of outdoor and indoor activities, Berry said.

“It’s an important time to remember that gathering with large groups of people outside your household if you’re unvaccinated is really quite dangerous,” Berry said.

“There’s really high probability of spread of COVID-19 if you have a big group people together who are unvaccinated.

“If you’re all vaccinated, it’s a totally different story.”

Berry and Locke continue to urge residents to get vaccinated as soon as possible, and vaccines are available at a variety of local pharmacies, health clinics and pop-up clinics scheduled for this weekend.

Upcoming vaccination clinics can be found at peninsuladailynews.com/news/vaccination-clinics-set-this-week.

“It’s a good time to think about getting vaccinated and certainly limit your gatherings until you’re vaccinated,” Berry said. “We have all the tools available to us now to end this pandemic. We just have to choose as a community to use them.

“We have come together as a community before to fight this pandemic, and now we need to do it again, but now we need to do it by getting vaccinated.”

Other counties in the state are in danger of being moved back into Phase 2 or possibly even Phase 1 of the state’s Roadmap to Recovery plan next week due to high case rates and hospitalizations, with evaluations set for Tuesday, said Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy director for COVID-19 response for the state Department of Health, during a press conference Thursday.

Currently, neither Jefferson nor Clallam are in danger of being moved back, but if people aren’t cautious, case rates and hospitalizations could increase to the point that the counties could be moved back, Locke and Berry said.

Before reaching the state metrics for increased restrictions, both Locke and Berry may impose restrictions themselves — such as on large gatherings — if cases continue to climb and people ignore COVID-19 prevention protocols such as vaccination, mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing, they said.

“Jefferson County is very much not an island,” Locke said. “It is influenced by what goes on in Clallam County and Kitsap County, and — as the tourism is starting up — really what is happening in the I-5 counties.”

The high levels of vaccinations on the North Olympic Peninsula do provide protection from an increased spread of COVID-19 and its variants throughout the state, health officers said, but they warned the fourth wave of infections isn’t over.

If people continue to follow safety guidelines, significant improvements may be seen by June, both health officers said.

“We have the ability at the local level to really influence how much of an impact the fourth wave has, and we have the ability as a state to bring the fourth wave to the end,” Locke said.

As of Thursday, Clallam County has confirmed a total of 161 COVID-19 cases so far this month, about 13.13 percent of the 1,226 cases during the past year, according to county data.

Jefferson County has confirmed 41 cases so far in April, about 10.51 percent of the 390 cases in the past year, according to county Public Health data.

Forty-four COVID-19 cases were active as of Thursday in Clallam County, with three patients currently hospitalized, one of whom is in the Intensive Care Unit.

Jefferson County had 11 active cases.

Clallam County is in the state’s high-risk category, having a case rate of 100 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks as of Thursday, while Jefferson County in the moderate-risk category with a case rate of 65.83 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Saturday.

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