PORT ANGELES — Health and emergency response officials were preparing Monday for the unavoidable arrival of COVID-19, a novel coronavirus, in Clallam and Jefferson counties.
Two Chimacum School District students were exposed to COVID-19, school district authorities told parents Monday on the district’s Facebook page.
The Jefferson County Health Department determined they did not have symptoms and were not contagious, although the students were picked up from the school Monday and were not there Monday afternoon, according to the district.
“We will absolutely see community transmission of the coronavirus on the Olympic Peninsula, and most of it will be a very mild illness,” Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said Monday.
The Port Angeles, Port Townsend and Quilcene school districts also have issued COVID-19 advisories to parents urging good hygiene and pledging to keep them updated.
The Clallam County Emergency Operations Center began 9 a.m.-5 p.m., five-days-a-week operations Monday to help coordinate the county’s response to the infection.
Participants include county fire districts, Olympic Medical Center and Forks Community Hospital, county Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry Unthank said Monday.
Unthank and Locke are coordinating the multi-agency health and emergency response efforts against COVID-19 for their respective counties.
Locke said the effort at combating the infection once it arrives in Jefferson County will be spearheaded by Locke’s office, other county offices and Jefferson Healthcare Hospital, all situated in the same area east of downtown Port Townsend.
Locke met with county commissioners at a board work session Monday, where it was decided to keep coordination in Port Townsend rather than spearhead the effort in Port Hadlock, where the sheriff’s office and county emergency operations center are located.
“We can’t move our operations to Port Hadlock,” Locke said.
“The need for that coordinated countywide service has not presented itself.”
Locke, Unthank, and Clallam County Emergency Operations Center Coordinator Anne Chastain said the infection is spread by close contact over an extended period of time with a person who has COVID-19, not by, for example, walking by someone who sneezes.
As precautions against COVID-19, they said people should wash their hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, not touch their eyes, nose or mouth, and stay home if they are ill.
“What they are saying is at least an hour of up close and personal contact within 6 feet,” Chastain said while staffing the EOC Monday.
She, Unthank and Locke said only people infected with COVID-19 or who are exhibiting cold- and flu-like symptoms should wear surgical masks.
Healthy people don’t need them, they said.
People 60 and older are most susceptible to the infection, Chastain said Monday.
“One thing we’re having to do right now is basically rumor control,” she said.
“The biggest rumor is that everybody needs to wear a mask.
“We want to make sure those masks are available for our first responders, because they are stuck in the back of an enclosed [vehicle] with a patient and they need to be able to stay safe.”
Unthank said key symptoms of COVID-19 are shortness of breath and an inability to eat or to drink water due to nausea.
Anyone with suspected symptoms should call a medical clinic or a hospital emergency room if the symptoms are severe, she said.
Unthank and Locke said most people who are infected will have mild symptoms and recover in days.
Chastain said she and other EOC workers were not shaking people’s hands when greeting them and that a safety protocol is being developed for county workers when dealing with the public.
Washington state health authorities said six people had died from COVID-19 as of Monday afternoon, five from King County and one from Snohomish County north of Seattle. All died at a hospital in Kirkland.
More than 10 schools in the Puget Sound region were closed Monday as a precaution for deep cleaning over coronavirus concerns with an entire district set to be closed today for training.
Researchers said earlier the COVID-19 virus may have been circulating for weeks undetected in the state, and experts said more cases would likely be reported in Washington, Oregon and California as testing ramps up.
King County announced an emergency declaration Monday after the number of COVID-19 cases rose to 14, including the deaths. Washington state now has at least 18 cases.
“While there is community spread in King County, there’s no known cases in Clallam County yet, but we anticipate we will get them here,” Unthank said.
There is a 24-hour turnaround time for local health authorities to obtain results of a swab test from state health officials, which determines if a person has COVID-19, Locke said.
There is no vaccine.
“Eighty percent of the people who get this will have very mild symptoms and will recover uneventfully in a matter of days,” Locke said.
Coronavirus cases have topped 100 in the U.S. and have spread to nearly a dozen states.
The worldwide death toll from the disease topped 3,000 Monday, and the number of those infected rose to about 89,000 in 70 countries on every continent but Antarctica.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected]