The number of COVID-19 cases on the North Olympic Peninsula continued to grow on Tuesday as Clallam County confirmed 10 new cases and Jefferson County reported three additional infections.
The case rate in Clallam County reached 188 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks as of Tuesday, while Jefferson County’s case rate was 156.74 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Monday.
Both counties have been in the state’s high-risk category with rates greater than 75 per 100,000 for the past two weeks.
Of the new cases in Clallam County, two were staff members at the unidentified long-term care facility which has had an outbreak that Clallam County Public Health has been investigating the past two weeks, said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.
Of the new cases in Jefferson County, two are female Port Townsend residents in their 20s and the third is a mid-county resident in his 30s, according to Jefferson Public Health data.
Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The remainder are a mix between close contacts of prior confirmed cases, additional infections attributed to the Sequim church outbreak that’s been under investigation, and others from recent travel out of the county, Unthank said.
The long-term care facility outbreak has led to 18 staff members and four residents infected with COVID-19, Unthank said.
Unthank will not identify the facility, leaving it to make its own public statement, unless her team is unable to trace all the potential close contacts, she has said previously.
The test positivity percentage — the rate of COVID-19 tests that return positive — in Clallam County was 5.2 percent from Nov. 3-17, and Jefferson County’s was 3.47 percent from Nov. 15-22, according to county health officers.
The number of cases confirmed through testing is predicted to be only a fraction of the cases on the North Olympic Peninsula, Unthank said.
“We are testing more than we did in March, but we are testing pretty similarly to how we were in July,” Unthank said.
“One of the common misconceptions is this rise in cases is related to a rise in testing, but the rise in cases dramatically outstrips the rise in testing.”
Unthank cited a prevalence study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that found about only 1 in 10 cases were actually found through testing, and it’s possible that is still the case now, she said.
“The challenge right now is our percent positivity — at least in Clallam — is much higher,” Unthank said. “When you have that high of a percent, it really signals that you are missing cases.
“So, we’re probably in that 1 in 10 range right now just because of the percent positivity that we’re getting.”
Unthank continues to urge caution and people to follow prevention guidelines such as social distancing, mask wearing, hand washing and avoiding gatherings with non-household members to slow the spread of cases.
“I think the thing that we really want people to understand is that anyone in your life could be positive for COVID-19,” Unthank said.
“While we always want to track numbers and try to make sure where we are in this pandemic, it’s really important to remember that those safety precautions have to be practiced always.
“Most likely, if you’re ever exposed to COVID-19, it will be by someone who didn’t know at the time that they have it,” she added.
“If people keep their (Thanksgiving) celebrations incredibly small and to their households, we could see our numbers level off, but if they don’t, this could get out of control,” she said.
“We need to be cautious this Thanksgiving, not just for the community, but also to avoid exposing the ones we love.
“I don’t want anyone in this community to have the guilt that comes from exposing someone you love to COVID-19.”
Clallam County has confirmed 450 cases of COVID-19 since March, with 115 active cases, three patients hospitalized and two deaths, according to Clallam County Public Heath data.
Jefferson County has confirmed 151 cases of COVID-19 since March, with 25 active cases, two patients currently hospitalized and no deaths, according to public health data.
Peninsula hospitals restricting visitors
All three North Olympic Peninsula hospitals are restricting visitors amid high community prevalence of COVID-19.
“There is no visitation except under special circumstances,” said Amy Yaley, spokeswoman for Jefferson Healthcare hospital in Port Townsend.
The same policy is in effect at Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles and at Forks Community Hospital.
“All routine visiting and escorting has been suspended in all areas of our hospitals and clinics,” OMC’s website says.
The rule includes the Olympic and Jefferson hospitals’ urgent-care clinics and laboratories in Port Angeles and Port Townsend.
Patients should come alone to doctor and lab appointments, Yaley added.
The new restrictions have been imposed as the Peninsula sees COVID-19 case rates rise into the state’s high-risk category: 188 per 100,000 population in Clallam County and 156.74 per 100,000 in Jefferson County over the past two weeks.
Now is the time to slow the coronavirus’ spread by limiting the numbers of people entering healthcare facilities, Yaley said Tuesday.
Two people with COVID-19 are in Jefferson Healthcare hospital’s acute care unit, she said. Both are in stable condition.
Three coronavirus-infected patients are hospitalized at Olympic Medical Center, chief human resources officer Jennifer Burkhardt said Tuesday.
“We are in the red zone” as a community, she added.
Yaley noted that the temporary no-visitors policy is necessary to keep medical staff, patients and community safe. It will remain in effect at least through mid-December, in the wake of Gov. Jay Inslee’s statewide restrictions announced Nov. 15.
“We will make assessments based on decreasing positive cases in the community,” she said.
There are several exceptions to the hospitals’ policies, including:
• patients younger than 18 may be accompanied by a caregiver;
• patients with altered mental status, developmental delay or disruptive behavior may have a caregiver for safety;
• patients coping with complex decisions about serious illness may have a support person;
• patients with disabilities may have a designated support person.
Other special considerations are listed at olympicmedical.org for OMC and at jeffersonhealthcare.org under “Patient Services” for Jefferson Healthcare. For Forks information, see forkshospital.org or call 360-374-6271.
Hospital officials are asking community members to stay vigilant wherever they go.
“We need to double down,” Jefferson Healthcare CEO Mike Glenn said, “on masking, social distancing, washing our hands and staying inside your bubble” throughout the Thanksgiving holiday period.