Peninsula COVID-19 cases up to 46 as health officials working on second phase of virus response

The North Olympic Peninsula’s number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 rose by one Clallam County resident Thursday, April 30, bringing the total number on the Peninsula to 46.

The new case is a woman in her 90s who contracted the virus from another household member who was already confirmed to have COVID-19, said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.

The woman was already in quarantine and poses “not much risk as far as additional contacts,” Unthank said.

As of Thursday, Clallam County had a total of 18 confirmed cases, with 1,196 tests administered and 1,157 negative. There were 21 tests pending for a total positive rate of about 1.5 percent, Unthank said.

In Jefferson County, the confirmed case total of 28 has held steady for three weeks. In the county, 830 people have been tested, with 798 tests negative and four pending, according to Jefferson County Public Health.

Twenty-five patients have recovered in Jefferson County and 13 have recovered in Clallam County, officials said.

Officials in both counties and across the state are now working on what is considered phase two in the pandemic response. They said they are considering which businesses and recreational activities can begin to reopen and increasing testing protocols.

“We want to keep folks safe and get people to work,” Unthank said. “There has been a lot of work on that.”

State and county health officials have been working to coordinate their responses and guidelines, said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.

“We’re really trying to work as one big system,” Locke said. “We work together to develop these guidelines so we don’t have a Clallam County version of things, a Jefferson County version or a King County version.

“That would not be a good idea.”

Currently, Locke said we’re in phase one, the stay-home order. Phase two includes the slow reopening of more of the safer work places and recreation, such as outdoor construction and recreational trails.

Phase three would ease restrictions more and relax travel, and phase four would open the rest of the state. The specific plans are still being worked on by state and county officials but should be finalized soon, Locke said.

Increased testing has been the biggest need for officials to safely start to open the economy, and both counties have been able to begin testing anyone with COVID-19 symptoms, officials said.

The Center for Disease Control says someone with a cough and shortness of breath/difficulty breathing or with a combination of two or more of a fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell may have COVID-19.

Jefferson Healthcare hospital in Port Townsend now has the ability to test samples collected from potential cases.

However, the hospital is waiting on a delivery of materials to be able to run those tests in-house, so tests are still being sent to Seattle labs such as the University of Washington and have a 36-hour return rate, said Locke, who added it’s a vast improvement since the virus began to spread.

Clallam County is working to develop the ability to test in the county, but it still has a shortage of kits, Unthank said.

“We have enough to continue to test anyone with symptoms,” Unthank said. “We’re working on testing locally, so tests don’t have to be shipped out.”

As the economy starts to reopen, Locke and Unthank encourage people to get outside and exercise, but still maintain social distancing and limit non-essential travel.

“(Distancing is) going to become even more important as we move into phase two,” Locke said. “The risk of exposure is going to go up.

“We can’t let up. The risk is low now, but it will go up as things open up. We don’t want the consequences of opening to be going back to the starting point.”