This week critical for coronavirus containment

State should get a clearer picture, health officers say

Dr. Tom Locke

Dr. Tom Locke

The COVID-19 pandemic continued its incursion into the North Olympic Peninsula as seven more cases have been reported by Clallam and Jefferson health officials, bringing the total of confirmed cases Clallam and Jefferson counties to 24.

Eight positive novel coronavirus cases have been reported in Clallam County and 16 in Jefferson County.

The 12th Jefferson county resident was stricken by the coronavirus through an in-county exposure, Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said Friday. Another case was reported Saturday morning. That case is still being investigated as to whether it came from an in-county or out-of-county exposure, Locke said.

The state reported 26 new COVID-19 deaths on March 27, the largest single day of fatalities from the virus.

The total confirmed deaths in Washington state is 195, with another 586 positive COVID-19 cases reported on March 29 bringing the statewide total to 4,896, according to the Washington Department of Health. (Those numbers do not reflect four additional cases in Clallam and Jefferson.)

There have been no fatalities in either Jefferson or Clallam counties. A man in his 40s from Jefferson County was transported to Virginia Mason March 22 and placed in the intensive care unit. Locke said on March 27 he did not know the man’s condition but added that he will be notified of any coronavirus victim from Jefferson County who dies.

Two new Clallam County cases were reported Saturday, Clallam County Health Officer Allison Berry Unthank said.

She said that in addition to the two new cases, a King County resident who was visiting in Clallam County tested positive for the virus after visiting local residents who had the virus.

The two new cases reported in Clallam County on Saturday are a married couple, and it appears they got the virus from a local source, Unthank said. That makes at least three cases in both counties believed to have come from local transmission.

Peak: ‘Wild guess’

Locke said there is now enough data that officials can make more than a “wild guess” on when the peak in the state will be for infections. Though there are a lot of factors still in play, Locke said it appears that peak will be the second or third week of April.

“They’re cautiously optimistic that social distancing is having an effect (of lowering the curve) in urban areas,” Locke said.

He said it’s harder to tell if measures are having an effect in rural areas.

According to the Clallam County Department of Health and Human services, 361 Clallam residents have been tested, with 322 showing negative results, eight positive and 31 pending (as of March 31). See www.clallam.net/coronavirus for updates.

Locke and Unthank said on March 27 that the two counties are testing positive at a lower rate than the 7 percent statewide percentage, Clallam at about 2 percent of those tested and Jefferson at about 4 percent.

Many businesses have furloughed or laid off employees since Gov. Jay Inslee ordered all business but those considered essential closed for the time being.

Westport LLC., in Port Angeles, laid off up to 335 workers on Monday, for instance.

McKinley Paper Co., had not announced any layoffs as of Friday. WorkSource Clallam said the business has produced 70 tons of paper.

‘Physical distancing’

Clallam County officials are urging that residents maintain “physical distancing” — before referred to as social distancing — of 6 feet from others when in public to prevent the spread of the virus, transferred by droplets from coughing and sneezing and from hard surfaces where the droplets land

Undersheriff Ron Cameron said at the daily COVID-19 briefing on March 27 that physical distancing was the terminology he had heard on Canadian radio, and a representative of Puget Sound Pilots also preferred the newer term.

Unthank and Locke point to a higher-than-normal degree of physical separation from others as a major weapon against the spread of the virus, in light of a shortage of personal protection equipment and coronavirus test kits, and given a 14-day incubation period during which carriers of the virus may not know they have it.

But Locke and Unthank expect the number of COVID-19 cases to rise as more residents receive swab tests and given the expected duration of COVID 19’s presence on the North Olympic Peninsula of at least three months.

“How long is this problem going to last in our area?” is a question in the Sheriff’s Office’s daily update posted on the health department’s coronavirus information page at www.clallam.net/coronavirus.

“The ‘best guess’ estimate is around three months from inception, but it could be longer,” the update noted. “So be prepared for a longer rather than shorter time for how long your life will be impacted.”

Those impacts continue to be felt in the two counties.

School districts have been told to provide instruction to students beginning Monday.

Elderly care centers

Assisted living and other long-term elderly health care centers have been restricting visitors, some even preventing them from talking to residents of the facilities through windows, Sequim Health and Rehabilitation Administrator Ed Ebling said at the briefing.

Although 80 percent of those who catch the unique coronavirus recover without complications, older people and those with chronic health conditions are more susceptible to serious illness, authorities have said.

Gov. Jay Inslee on March 10 established a limit on visitors to one per day.

Unthank said she recommended that elderly-care facilities not allow visitors at all, which is in keeping with the American Health Care Association’s nationwide recommendation.

Whether visitors can talk through a window is up to the individual facility, she said.

Ebling said staff members are screened every day for cold and flu-like symptoms that are symptomatic of coronavirus patients. Visitors are being discouraged from walking up to windows and disrupting residents’ privacy.

Unthank and Ebling said residents can communicate with family and relatives online, such as through Skype.

Kevin Denton, emergency management coordinator for Olympic Medical Center, said the hospital had started taking staff temperatures as of Friday to detect coronavirus symptoms and that respiratory and non-respiratory patients are being separated when they enter the hospital and in the emergency department.

Dr. Mike Maxwell, CEO of North Olympic Healthcare Network in Port Angeles, said Friday patients of the clinic at 240 W. Front St., are being screened for COVID-19 symptoms outside.

Tests are given those with such symptoms as coughing or fever or shortness of breath, and cold and flu-like symptoms.

Maxwell said until there is widespread testing, it will be impossible to tell if someone with a “garden-variety cold” has the highly contagious virus.

Locke said he expects that residents may eventually be able to administer swab tests on themselves.

Unthank, herself sick at home Friday, urged anyone with cold- or flu-like symptoms not to go to work.

“I don’t know if I have COVID-19,” she said.

Port Angeles Police Chief Brian Smith said at Friday’s briefing that businesses that qualify as essential under Inslee’s order and can continue to stay open don’t need to issue documents to their employees to be in public.

Smith said residents have felt compelled to stop officers and assure them they can be out in public.

“We have no additional constitutional authority to stop and challenge people,” Smith said. “We don’t need you to perceive us as setting up roadblocks or checkpoints or stopping people randomly.”

While an officer may talk to those in a large gathering of people, the role of officers is educational.

“We don’t want to be adding to people’s stress when they see us,” Smith said.

Critical week

Locke said this week (March 29-April 4) is a critical time for the state because it’s two weeks after social distancing measures went into place and a week after more stringent “remain in shelter” restrictions went into place.

The incubation period for the COVID-19 virus is about five to six days before symptoms show up, he said.

“This weekend, we’re actually kind of regrouping,” Locke said. “This is an extremely important week.”

Locke said he was concerned there will be an uptick in cases, but the state should get a clearer idea this week if the strict measures are starting to make an impact.

Officials are cautiously optimistic they are having an effect in urban areas such as Seattle and Tacoma, but it’s a less clear picture in rural counties.

“This is when mitigation measures that started two weeks ago should start having an effect,” Locke said.

Unthank agreed there is reason for optimism and that the following week or two will be crucial.

“There is data that social distancing is starting to work,” she said, pointing primarily to King County.

“We’re just now starting to see the increase in cases,” she said. “We have a shot to lower that curve. There is a way through this if we do it right.”

It’s a message echoed by the Clallam County Sheriff’s Department and others.

“There is evidence that the mandated social and physical distance requirement is having a positive impact in areas where it is being followed; it seems like the better we follow the physical distancing guidelines, the better the result,” Peter Raiswell, Public Information Officer for the sheriff’s department, said.

“In Clallam County we instituted the distancing requirements before there was an indication of a big uptick in cases here — that may really help to limit the spread in our community,” Raiswell said.

“It looks like we might be able to ‘get ahead of the curve,’ but for this to work it is critical that these distancing requirements continue to be followed until we are told it is no longer necessary.”

Unthank said it’s critical that not only the social distancing measures remain, but that the county is able to get more tests and personal protection equipment for health care workers.

Locke pointed out that the cases on the North Olympic Peninsula so far are those that were transmitted before social distancing measures went into effect.

Locke said one encouraging sign is that the people who have been tested and are awaiting results have been very good about self-quarantining to prevent the spread of the disease.

There were a total of 4,310 cases in Washington state and 189 deaths from the COVID-19 virus as of Saturday night.

Volunteers Donna Fraser of Port Angeles, front, and Lori Shafer of Joyce fashion homemade face shields to be used by first responders when interacting with potential COVID-19 patients. The pair were working last week in the county’s emergency management vehicle outside the Clallam County Courthouse in Port Angeles. Photo by Keith Thorpe/Olympic Peninsula News Group

Volunteers Donna Fraser of Port Angeles, front, and Lori Shafer of Joyce fashion homemade face shields to be used by first responders when interacting with potential COVID-19 patients. The pair were working last week in the county’s emergency management vehicle outside the Clallam County Courthouse in Port Angeles. Photo by Keith Thorpe/Olympic Peninsula News Group

Volunteers Donna Fraser of Port Angeles, front, and Lori Shafer of Joyce fashion homemade face shields to be used by first responders when interacting with potential COVID-19 patients. The pair were working last week in the county’s emergency management vehicle outside the Clallam County Courthouse in Port Angeles. Photo by Keith Thorpe/Olympic Peninsula News Group

Volunteers Donna Fraser of Port Angeles, front, and Lori Shafer of Joyce fashion homemade face shields to be used by first responders when interacting with potential COVID-19 patients. The pair were working last week in the county’s emergency management vehicle outside the Clallam County Courthouse in Port Angeles. Photo by Keith Thorpe/Olympic Peninsula News Group

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