No virus ‘surge’ yet after Thanksgiving

While the North Olympic Peninsula has seen cases of COVID-19 attributed to Thanksgiving gatherings, it has so far been spared from a surge that other places in the country are seeing.

Meanwhile, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday, Dec. 8, that he is extending current restrictions on businesses and social gatherings through Jan. 4 due to a continued spike in new coronavirus cases that is straining the state’s hospital system, the Associated Press reported.

The set of restrictions that took effect last month — including those limiting restaurants and bars to to-go service and outdoor dining — were slated to expire Dec. 14 but will now be extended an additional three weeks.

Inslee also announced $50 million in additional grants for businesses, on top of the $135 million in grants, loans and other assistance he announced two weeks ago to help businesses and workers impacted by the restrictions, the Associated Press reported.

The case rates in both Clallam and Jefferson counties dropped slightly Monday, with Clallam County dipping to 204 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks, while Jefferson County sinking to about 110 per 100,000 for the same time period.

But both counties continue to be in the state’s high-risk category, with new case rates above 75 per 100,000 in a two-week period.

Clallam County confirmed 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, and Jefferson County added two.

The new Clallam County cases have primarily stemmed from Thanksgiving gatherings and having out-of-county visitors, said Dr. Allison Unthank, the county health officer.

The new Jefferson County cases were under investigation Monday afternoon as to how they contracted the novel coronavirus, said Dr. Tom Locke, the county health officer.

The long-term care facility that Clallam County has been investigating for a COVID-19 outbreak had an additional staff member test positive, raising its total number to 19 staff members and four residents, Unthank said.

However, the staff member had contact with a known case outside of work, so public health officials are still investigating if it’s part of the facility outbreak, Unthank added.

So far this month, Clallam County has confirmed 74 cases of COVID-19, about 12.5 percent of the total 590 cases the county has confirmed since March.

Jefferson County has confirmed 13 cases this month, which is about 7 percent of the total 183 cases the county has confirmed since March.

Both health officers said Monday that, while the Peninsula has been spared from a significant surge in COVID-19 cases from Thanksgiving gatherings so far, this week likely will reveal if there will be one.

Both counties have seen cases attributed to Thanksgiving but “not anything we would call a surge,” Locke told the Board of Jefferson County Commissioners during his weekly briefing Monday.

“Right now, we’re not seeing a massive surge like much of the rest of the country,” Unthank said. “So, I’m cautiously optimistic that the majority of our residents were cautious and thoughtful with their gathering.

“But, really this week will be when we’ll know.”

Vaccine could be coming in spring

The Food and Drug Administration will meet this week to discuss and potentially approve COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna through an Emergency Use Authorization.

If both are approved, the Peninsula could potentially receive the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine as early as Dec. 15, and the Moderna vaccine as early as Dec. 28, Locke said.

Both counties have the type of freezer needed to store the vaccines, which need to be kept in extremely cold temperatures. It is expected that each county will receive the same allotment of one unit — about 975 doses — with the first priority group being frontline healthcare workers and first responders, Unthank said.

Clallam, Jefferson and Kitsap county public health departments have been making plans to assist each other with administering the vaccine. Since the same groups of people will be vaccinated within each county, the counties have been working together to stay organized and to make sure vaccines aren’t wasted due to limited shelf life, Unthank said.

“One of the goals for us — specifically for us in this tri-county region — is that we really get the vaccine to the same peers of people at the same time across the region,” Unthank said. “One of the things that went wrong in the vaccine distribution for the pandemic influenza in 2009 was that it wasn’t as carefully regulated, so people were feeling that they had to travel to the vaccine, which is not something we want to do.”

While the vaccines may potentially become available this month, vaccinations for the general public are not expected until spring at the earliest. People should still wear face masks and social distance in the meantime, Locke said.

Clallam County currently has 105 active cases of COVID-19, two patients hospitalized and four deaths, according to Clallam County Public Health data.

Jefferson County currently has 19 active cases and one death, according to Jefferson County Public Health data.