County health officers expect COVID-19 case numbers to continue to rise over the next few weeks, as Clallam County added 18 new cases and Jefferson County reported 12 on Thursday.
Clallam County has had 383 confirmed cases since March, while Jefferson County is at 139 for the same time period.
Small indoor gatherings, along with cases from the several outbreak investigations underway, are the source of new infections, according to Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.
“It’s really those social gatherings indoors that are driving quite a few infections,” Unthank said. “A lot of folks I think are getting tired of quarantine and making exceptions, and those exceptions, when you see a lot of virus transmitting, can really make a lot of people sick.”
Long-term care facility
Infections at the long-term care facility outbreak that Clallam County Public Health has been investigating during the past two weeks has risen to 14 staff members and five residents. Some of the staff are recovering and will be able to return to work in the coming days, Unthank said.
Health officials are contacting all of those exposed, Unthank said.
Unthank will not identify facilities where outbreaks are taking place unless there is no other way to find those who have been exposed, she said.
“We won’t ever let people be exposed to a known case and not let them know about it,” Unthank said. “If we can’t contact trace directly, that’s when we put out public notification, but that’s only for the cases we know about.”
She has said that knowing where known outbreaks are located isn’t a protection against catching the disease.
“There will always be cases out there that we don’t know about, and those are the ones that are the higher risk to the public,” Unthank said.
Of the new cases in Jefferson County, six are household members of other confirmed cases, two are contacts of confirmed cases, two were exposed to an out-of-county visitor who tested positive and two are still under investigation, said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.
Locke urged community members to follow COVID-19 prevention protocols such as wearing face masks, social distancing and hand washing, as well as restricting social interaction to people in one’s own household and avoiding people not wearing masks.
“People have to take responsibility for changing their behaviors,” Locke said. “We need people to do that.
“Start strictly limiting not mixing households, restricting gathering, restricting travel. All those things are very important.”
Locke reported that one Port Townsend resident submitted 10 separate letters to the county Board of Health, all saying that the pandemic is a hoax and masks are unnecessary.
That is completely false, he said.
“They’re living on a different planet,” said Locke, “but the planet that we’re on is having an outbreak of COVID-19, and we want the community to know that — especially people who are at high risk of complications.
“It’s more dangerous being out in public than it was it was even two weeks ago, and they have to take that to heart, because we want to keep people safe. We want to prevent deaths. We want to prevent hospitalizations.”
Both counties’ teams of contact tracers — 10 people in Jefferson County and 15 in Clallam County between staff and volunteers — have been able to keep up with surges in infections so far, but that gets more difficult as cases continue to climb, both Locke and Unthank said.
“It’s certainly an incredible workload for our staff, but with help from some of the state contact tracers as well, we’re still able to contact trace all of our cases,” Unthank said.
People are unable to volunteer to contact trace in either county at this point due to the large amount of complicated training that is needed, both health officers said.
Testing capacity is getting more strained, given the significant rise in cases as well as the ongoing outbreak investigations, Unthank said.
Changes and restrictions made this week won’t show an effect for another two to three weeks, so both health officers expect to see case numbers continue to rise.
“It’s going to get rough between now and two weeks from now, but if we stay steady, if we keep with it, if we keep limiting interactions with people outside our household, we keep wearing masks, we can turn those numbers back around,” Unthank said.
“But it will take a couple of weeks for that to happen.”
Clallam County has 90 active cases of COVID-19, with one person hospitalized, more than 300 people in quarantine due to exposure and two deaths, said Unthank, who has said the state Department of Health’s figure of three deaths in Clallam County is incorrect.
Jefferson County has at least 36 active cases of COVID-19, more than 60 people in quarantine due to exposure and no deaths, Locke said.
Clallam County’s case rate is 124 per 100,000 population as of Thursday, while Jefferson County’s case rate was 100.31 per 100,000 population for the two weeks prior as of Monday.
Both counties are in the state’s high-risk category.