The COVID-19 virus continued to leave its mark Thursday on the North Olympic Peninsula, both in terms of jobs and patients.
The number of confirmed cases rose to 16 as of March 26.
A fifth Clallam County resident tested positive for COVID-19, health officials learned Thursday morning, and an 11th Jefferson County resident also tested positive.
Meanwhile, unemployment claims increased 22-fold in Jefferson County and 20-fold in Clallam County during a two-week period, according to statewide data released Thursday.
Public bus-transit agencies in both Clallam and Jefferson counties have suspended fares and are asking those passengers who can do so to enter the mass-transit vehicles through the buses’ rear doors.
The most coronavirus recent case in Clallam County, a man in his 50s, had been in isolation at home for 14 days as of Thursday, and was doing well, Undersheriff Ron Cameron said at the county’s daily COVID-19 briefing.
Health officials, who do not release such detail as the occupation of virus patients, learned of the man’s test result earlier Thursday morning.
He is the fifth Clallam County resident diagnosed since March 18 with the highly contagious respiratory ailment, spread by droplets from coughing and sneezing within 6 feet over a duration of 15 minutes or more.
The ailment is marked by breathing trouble, coughing or having a sore throat, and fever, and has a 14-day incubation period, meaning people can have the virus and not realize it, health officials have said.
As of Thursday, 268 COVID-19 tests have been conducted in Clallam County, with 200 coming back negative and 63 still pending, along with the five positive tests.
In Jefferson County, 453 tests were conducted as of Thursday, with 261 showing negative results, 181 tests pending along with the 11 positive results.
The 11th case was an out-of-county exposure.
As the number of confirmed cases increases, Jefferson County Health Officer Tom Locke said he is no longer releasing the gender and age ranges of patients.
“We have more positive tests we are working on today,” he said Thursday.
“We are expecting about 4 to 5 percent of the tests we run will come back positive. Since we’ve got hundreds of tests still pending and we are still getting them back from the laboratory, it’s inevitable we will find people with confirmed tests.”
Contact tracing of both new coronavirus cases is being conducted, health officials said.
Jefferson County has not received more test kits, although more are needed, Locke said.
Clallam County, with a population of 75,000, received 600 more test kits from Olympic Medical Center on March 25.
That allowed health officials to ease restrictions Thursday under which only hospitalized patients and health care workers had been getting screened.
“We’ve added people like first responders, long-term care facilities, jail staff is included in that, and prison staff as well as out at the West End, (and) clinics for folks that are at serious risk, not just because of displaying symptoms, but those that are displaying symptoms and they have, like, (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and underlying conditions,” Cameron said.
Tests are coming back within three days, according to Clallam County Health and Human Services.
Health officials urge those who display symptoms of COVID-19 to call their primary-care physicians before going to an emergency room.
Testing also has been extended to post-mortem examinations.
In Clallam County, 1,147 jobless claims were filed between March 15-21 compared with 56 during the period of March 8-14.
In Jefferson County, 568 claims were filed between March 15-21 compared to 25 claims March 8-14.
While county-by-county job-impact statistics will not be available until next week, the jobless claims for the North Olympic Peninsula mirror those statewide, regional economist Jim Vleming said Thursday.
Statewide, accommodation and food service workers who lost jobs during the two-week period increased from 3,647 to 41,309.
Arts, entertainment and recreations job losses jumped from 14,154 to 133,464.
Order extension possible
At a press conference Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee indicated his willingness to extend a two-week stay-at-home order that went into effect Wednesday night despite a decline in the rate of increase of the infection in hard-hit King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.
Inslee had already limited restaurant activities to take-out orders only and shut down theaters and other entertainment venues to restrict the kinds of large gatherings that ripen the chances for the virus to spread.
“The fact is, we have to hammer this until we can be assured that this will not spring up,” Inslee said.
“This order may go beyond two weeks, and we have to be prepared for that.”
Vleming noted that out-of-work residents will receive increased unemployment benefits under a $2 trillion relief plan that the U.S. Senate approved Thursday and the House is expected to pass today.
“I think those initial claims will probably keep going up, but not to the extent we saw over the past week,” he said.
“Especially for areas that have not recovered from 2008, it’s a rough situation,” Vleming said.
Inslee said while the hospital system statewide is not overwhelmed now, it is “absolutely necessary” to dramatically increase capacity.
He said the state Legislature has committed $2 million to rural hospitals such as Olympic Medical Center, Jefferson Healthcare Hospital and Forks Community Hospital.
“This has been hard for rural hospitals,” he said, noting that federal field hospitals headed for Washington are likely going to the hard-hit Puget Sound region.
“They are going to go where they can do the most good for the most people,” he said.
At the briefing, Cameron pledged to look into why food retailers were having supply-chain issues and not getting their orders fully satisfied.
“We don’t know if it’s widespread,” Cameron said.
Forks City Attorney-Planner Rod Fleck said in an interview Thursday that the issue was brought to his attention by food retailers in Forks but may be a region-wide concern.
Forks Community Hospital is finalizing procedures for a pre-screening system for patients, Fleck said.
An emergency operations center was set up in City Hall on Tuesday, the day after the City Council declared an emergency.
Fleck said he did not know of any Forks-area residents who have been diagnosed with the virus.
“We’re kind of just doing a lot of preparatory work for what may eventually come westward,” he said.
At the briefing, Clallam Transit General Manager Kevin Gallacci said the agency has seen a 60 percent drop in overall ridership and an 80 percent drop in paratransit customers.
Inlsee’s stay-at-home order “appears to be working,” Gallacci said.
Volunteers are producing badly-needed surgical masks and N95 shield in Sequim and in Port Angeles at the Vern Burton Center, officials at the briefing said.
Businesses who have donated masks include Westport LLC, which laid off 335 workers this week in the wake of Inslee’s stay-at-home order.
Cameron urged local businesses not to overdo it on donations of equipment they might need later.
“Don’t wipe yourself out,” he urged. “As bad as we need this stuff, this will end, this will end. You’re going to have to go back to work, and it will be hard to get.”