Peninsula counties add COVID-19 cases

A Clallam County long-term care facility outbreak has risen to 21 cases of COVID-19, and a second facility in Clallam is now confirmed to have an outbreak, with two cases confirmed so far.

On Wednesday, Clallam County added 91 confirmed cases of COVID-19, while Jefferson County added 18 new cases, according to county public health data.

The larger long-term care facility outbreak has 13 residents and eight staff members infected with the novel coronavirus, while the other outbreak has two staff members, said Dr. Allison Berry, North Olympic Peninsula health officer, on Wednesday.

Berry does not name long-term care facility outbreaks. She said that it is not needed since the facilities close to the public when an outbreak is found, and therefore pose no risk to the public; also facilities are required to inform the family/emergency contacts of residents who have been exposed to a COVID-19 case, Berry said. Outside of those outbreaks, Berry and her public health teams have been tracking cases stemming from restaurants, social gatherings and unvaccinated travel across the Peninsula, she said.

“Pretty much any indoor environment, we’re seeing exposures,” Berry said.

As of Wednesday, Clallam County had 21 patients hospitalized for COVID-19, with four in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and two in ICUs outside of the county, Berry said.

Jefferson County had five residents hospitalized, with two residents in ICUs outside of the county, Berry said.

Clallam County has confirmed a total of 2,794 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, while Jefferson County has confirmed 713, according to county public health data. Clallam County continues to set new records for its highest case rate. On Wednesday, the county’s case rate was 864 per 100,000 population for the last two weeks as of Wednesday. Jefferson County reports its case rate once a week; on Monday, the county reported a rate of 247.65 cases per 100,000 for the past two weeks as of Saturday.

Since the beginning of February, 18.1 percent of new COVID-19 cases in Jefferson County have been among fully vaccinated residents, meaning 81.9 percent of cases have been among unvaccinated residents, according to county data. During that same time period, 11.2 percent of new COVID-19 cases in Clallam County have been among fully vaccinated residents, meaning 88.8 percent of cases have been among unvaccinated residents, according to county data.

The continued rising case numbers are concerning in general for health officials, as they’re already seeing significant strain on the health care system on the Peninsula, but it is especially worrisome because of the impacts it may have on schools, Berry said.

Public school districts on the Peninsula are resuming in-person classes this week.

“I am worried about the school year,” Berry said. “That will be a whole lot more people indoors, and it’s really important to me that we do that well.

“We continue to encourage everyone in our community to do everything they can to make that roll-out successful and they way we do that is reduce our exposures in other places.”

Minimizing exposures include limiting time indoors with others outside of household members, getting vaccinated as soon as possible for people 12 and older, wearing a mask inside with others and getting tested for COVID-19 immediately if feeling sick.

Schools have stringent COVID-19 mitigation measures —such as mask wearing, social distancing and rapid testing — in place so Berry is confident the schools will be able to limit the transmission of COVID-19.

She doesn’t expect them to be able to prevent transmission entirely like last year, due to the drastically higher amount of COVID-19 circulating in the community currently, she said.

“I do believe for the vast majority of students, it’s safer to be in schools than not,” Berry said. “We’ve had a year to gather data on in-person instruction and when COVID-19 safety protocols are followed in schools, we see less transmission in those spaces than anywhere else in the community, looking nationwide and statewide.

“I do think the increased density of classrooms — having kids closer together — I don’t think we can guarantee that there will be no transmission like last year, but if and when we get transmission, it will likely be very limited and be less transmission there than we’re seeing in the community,” she continued. “I do believe we can keep kids safe.”

Berry said that some children have high-risk existing conditions for COVID-19, such as leukemia and cystic fibrosis. Their families will have to weigh other risk benefits for their children and should talk with their primary care providers, she said.