Peninsula officials support brief rules extension as Clallam sees 16-break outbreak increase

Gov. Jay Inslee extended the reinstated COVID-19 restrictions concerning such places as indoor dining areas and gyms through Jan. 11 on Wednesday as an outbreak in Clallam County increased to 16 cases.

The one-week extension for the restrictions comes as health officials wait for the possibility of a surge in COVID-19 cases stemming from Christmas and New Year’s Eve gatherings.

Health officers in Clallam and Jefferson counties expect the state extension to remain at one week.

“While it is always hard to hear that the closures are being extended, I think it’s going to be a short-term extension, especially for places like us, where things are going relatively well,” said Dr. Allison Berry Unthank, Clallam County health officer.

“These decisions are always really tough calls.

“We don’t want to see the numbers rebound in serious ways, and I anticipate part of the thought behind this extension is to give one more week to see if we get a significant spike from Christmas, and then if we do not, I think we will feel a lot safer moving forward with additional re-openings,” Berry Unthank said.

Inslee said: “We understand the profound impact COVID is having on our health care system, families and businesses, but I am heartened by the number of Washingtonians who continue to do the right thing.

“If we continue distancing from others, wearing facial coverings and avoiding social gatherings, we will make it to the other side of this pandemic together.”

On Wednesday, Clallam County confirmed eight new COVID-19 cases, while Jefferson County confirmed one new case, according to public health data.

Among the new cases in Clallam is another staff member for the long-term care facility that is under an outbreak investigation by Clallam County Public Health, raising the total case numbers there to 16.

Eight staff members and eight residents are infected, Berry Unthank said. She will not identify businesses with outbreaks unless the health department cannot get cooperation for contact tracing, she has said.

Another of the cases reported Wednesday is at a different long-term care facility, also unidentified, in Clallam County.

A staff member tested positive and now all staff and residents will be tested to see if an outbreak exists at that facility, Berry Unthank said.

The remaining six cases are among a family of four, and the two remaining were under investigation Wednesday, she said.

The new case in Jefferson County was exposed through out-of-state family, said Jefferson County Public Health via Facebook.

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said he supports the extension of restrictions since case numbers continue to be high statewide, although not as bad as other states; Washington had the 45th-highest case count among the states as of Wednesday.

“I think it certainly is necessary to extend the closures,” Locke said. “We’re doing better than 44 other states, but still, levels in Washington state are very high relative to what we would want them to be, especially given the fact that we’re seeing early signs of a Christmas surge.

“We know there was a lot of travel and a lot of gatherings over the Christmas holidays. We really have to brace for that,” Locke continued.

“I think by the middle of January we’ll have a much better idea of what’s going on.”

Safe Start

Inslee plans to announce next week new changes to the Safe Start plan, which has been paused and modified over the last few months, Unthank said.

“I think the public health experts are well aware of the suffering people are facing due to the economy, so we’re all very interested in being thoughtful about that and reopening what can be safely reopened.”

So far this month, Clallam County has confirmed 228 cases, about 30.6 percent of the 744 the county has confirmed since March, according to Clallam County Public Health data.

Jefferson County has confirmed 50 cases of COVID-19, about 22.7 percent of the 220 the county has confirmed since March, according to Jefferson County Public Health data.

Sixty COVID-19 cases were active as of Monday in Clallam County, with two patients hospitalized and one in the intensive care unit.

Jefferson County had 12 active cases.

The test positivity on the Peninsula — the percentage of tests returned positive — was 5.6 percent in Clallam County for Dec. 13-27, and 3.33 percent in Jefferson County for Dec. 21-27.

Jefferson County is in the state’s moderate-risk category with a case rate of 62.7 per 100,000 population for the two weeks prior as of Monday.

Clallam County is in the state’s high-risk category with a case rate of 133 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Wednesday.