Rural counties are having difficulty getting enough personal protective equipment for health care workers, county health officials said.
North Olympic Peninsula health officials reported no new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday.
Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry Unthank said the major issue of the day was a “significant shortage” of masks and other personal protective equipment for health care workers in rural counties.
“The state has not filled any of the orders that we’ve sent to them even though they recently got some funding for that,” Unthank said in a daily COVID-19 status briefing at the Clallam County Courthouse.
“It’s a huge challenge. I can tell you I’m on a variety of strongly-worded calls to the state right now to try to get things to Clallam County because we aren’t getting prioritized, which I don’t think makes epidemiologic sense.”
Forty-five samples had been sent for testing as of Wednesday in Jefferson County. Eight of those tests had come back negative and 36 were pending, according to the Jefferson County Public Health website.
Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer, believes it is only a matter of time before the county, which has had one confirmed case — a man in his 60s who is recovering at home — has more.
“We almost certainly will have community-level transmission. It’s just too contagious, too close to the I-5 Corridor,” he said.
Clallam County health officials had tested 13 residents for the novel coronavirus as of Wednesday. Twelve of those tests had returned negative and one test was pending.
“We highly suspect that we have cases of COVID-19 right now but we just don’t know where they are,” Unthank said.
A panel of leaders conducted an update on Wednesday for Jefferson Healthcare staff to ask questions concerning the spread of the virus. The public was able to view via Facebook live.
The panel included Locke; Dr. Tracie Harris; Amber Pankau, Employee Health; Jeff Hiestand, director of Pulmonary Care and Sleep Center and Laura Showers, infection preventionist/ accreditation specialist.
The panel said that the U.S. has an inadequate supply of personal protective equipment for health care workers.
The county will place priority on protection for the elderly in long-term care facilities and for health care workers treating people with the virus.
The mode of transmission is droplets. When people cough or sneeze, droplets fly out and drop onto surfaces that others touch or they touch an object after blowing their nose
“Mostly how this works is by us touching something and then … we get it by touching our faces,” Showers said.
Two cases have been confirmed on Bainbridge Island in Kitsap County.
Unthank she was not recommending public gatherings be banned in Clallam County.
“We’re not actually closing public events,” Unthank said. “There may come a point where we do need to close public events, but we’re not there yet.
“COVID-19 has not hit the whole state the same,” Unthank said. “And so what Seattle needs to do and what the rest of the state needs to do are different. The trouble is the recommendations we’re getting right now are very much tailored to Seattle.”
Unthank said she recommended a county-specific response to COVID-19.
“We have a lot less (virus) than what King has,” Unthank said.
“The way we control that virus is by doing all those common sense things — washing your hands, cleaning your surfaces, don’t go to work when you’re sick, don’t go to the ER if you don’t need to and wear your personal protective equipment. I’m helping you with No. 5.”
The state Department of Health reported Wednesday 366 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 234 in King County.
All school districts on the North Olympic Peninsula remained open Wednesday.
Port Angeles School District Superintendent Martin Brewer said the district was “committed to staying open if we can be safe.”
Brewer asked for guidance from health officials on how to respond if a student contracts COVID-19. Unthank said state guidelines for schools were being drafted.
“Right now, the guidance that you would get from me … would be that that child should be isolated and their close contacts should be quarantined,” Unthank said.
“That’s the kids who sit right around them, their best friend, people they had close contact with during their infectious period. Not the whole school. Not the whole class.”
Health officials would recommend a “good cleaning” of the area where an infectious student had been.
“Depending on how fast you can clean your building, it might not even have to shut down for a day,” Unthank told Brewer. “If it does, it would be no more than a day. There’s no reason to quarantine an entire school for weeks. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Unthank said COVID-19 testing had recently been expanded to long-term nursing care facilities. She encouraged long-term care providers to contact the county health department if they needed personal protective equipment.
“We are hoping to start outpatient testing soon,” Unthank said, “so that we can get wider testing of our community started.”
Olympic Medical Center spokeswoman Bobby Beeman said the patient census at the Port Angeles hospital had dropped from 52 on Monday to 41 as of Wednesday. OMC has 67 hospital beds.
Most of the COVID-19 tests generated in Clallam County are taken at OMC.
“All of the tests have come back negative and we don’t have any pending,” Beeman said.
Unthank said Forks Community Hospital had one pending test.
The turnaround time for COVID-19 testing had improved from seven days to about 48 hours as of Wednesday, Unthank said.
Testing is being conducted at the state Department of Health lab in Shoreline, the University of Washington Medical Center and at private labs.
Clallam Transit officials reported a 13-percent decrease in ridership on the No. 123 Strait Shot route to Bainbridge Island so far this month.
As a precaution, all Clallam Transit buses are receiving an “extra cleaning each day,” Transit General Manager Kevin Gallacci said in a Wednesday interview.
Most of those who contract COVID-19 have mild, cold-like symptoms or no signs of illness at all, health officials said. About 20 percent have more severe influenza-like illness with fever, cough and shortness of breath. Of those, some will develop severe illness requiring hospitalization and advanced medical care.
Those at greatest risk of developing complications are people over age 60, pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, lung disease and diabetes.
A respiratory illness clinic has been set up in Jefferson County. To schedule an appointment, or for other information, call the Jefferson Healthcare nurse consult line between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays at 360-344-3094.
A Clallam County COVID-19 hotline is available at 360-417-2430.
For the latest updates on COVID-19 on the Peninsula, visit www.peninsuladailynews.com/tag/coronavirus.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].