Clallam officials suspect U.K. variant in three cases

Clallam County officials suspect that three COVID-19 cases are of the U.K. variant of the novel coronavirus, officials reported Thursday.

If tests confirm the mutated virus to be the cause of the infections reported Thursday, they would be the first of the U.K. variant found on the North Olympic Peninsula.

The U.K. variant of the virus is known to be more contagious and is starting to show signs of being more likely to cause severe illness than the initial novel coronavirus, said Dr. Allison Berry, Clallam County health officer.

The three tests are being sent to labs outside of Clallam County for genetic sequencing to confirm them as variant cases, Berry said. Results may take weeks.

“We’re sending them for sequencing, but they have a specific signature on their lab tests that really suggest that we’re dealing with variants,” she said.

As of Thursday, no variants have been confirmed in Jefferson County, said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer. The one case confirmed in the county on Thursday was not suspected to be caused by a variant.

The three suspected variant cases are among the four new cases confirmed in Clallam County on Thursday.

They are believed to have been contracted through travel. Berry is urging residents to avoid traveling to prevent the spread of the potentially more contagious and harmful variants on the North Olympic Peninsula.

“The risk of importing the variants into our community is really quite real,” she said. “The big worry we have with this variant is that it spreads more easily and it has shown to make people sicker who are otherwise young and healthy.

“That has us concerned.”

If people do travel, Berry recommend avoiding air travel, but if people do so, they should wear a medical-quality mask such as a surgical mask, he said, adding that once people return from travel — no matter the mode of transportation — they should quarantine or at least limit their interactions with other people for 10 days and avoid congregate settings such as schools.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced that all Washington residents 16 and older will be able to sign up for vaccination appointments starting April 15, a move that both Locke and Berry support.

“I think the prioritization scheme was well-intentioned, but it wasn’t really effective,” Locke said. “It was confusing; it was overly detailed; it actually made it harder to vaccinate people than easier.

“Everyone agreed that the frontline healthcare workers and the people over the age 65 — especially those over the age 75 — needed to be at the front of the line, but beyond that there’s no general agreement for what the sequence should be.”

Those 16 and older who qualify under the present-tier eligibility can get shots now. In other words, restaurant workers or others in congregate settings or with a chronic medical condition.

Of the three COVID-19 vaccines with emergency use authorization, only Pfizer’s is allowed for people 16 and older, while Moderna and Johnson & Johnson’s are authorized for people 18 and older.

For 16- and 17-year-olds in Clallam County who are eligible under the current phase of vaccinations, Saturday’s clinic at the Port Angeles High School is the only one offering Pfizer for the next three weeks. To sign up, go to http://vaccine.clallam.net/register. Appointments also can be made by phone at 360-417-2430.

They’re asked to bring a parent with them to sign a consent form for the vaccine, Berry said.

Both counties are in phases 1B3 and 1B4, which include restaurant, construction, agriculture and other congregate workers. It also covers people with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, lung or heart disease as well as chemotherapy patients.

The conditions listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are published at https://tinyurl.com/PDN-ChronicConditions.

Locke has said that anyone with a chronic medical condition is probably eligible now.

Those previously eligible for vaccinations under previous phases remain eligible for shots.

Appointments for vaccination clinics this Saturday and April 10 at Port Angeles High School — there will not be a clinic Sunday due to the Easter holiday — can be made at http://vaccine.clallam.net/register. Appointments also can be made by phone at 360-417-2430.

The next clinic using Pfizer vaccine in Port Angeles will be in three weeks, so those 16 and older should register as soon as possible if they want the vaccine. Each of those who are 16 and 17 are asked to bring a parent with them to sign a consent form, Berry said.

Appointments for Jefferson Healthcare’s clinic can be made at https://jefferson healthcare.org/covid-19- vaccine.

Clallam County has confirmed 64 cases of COVID-19 so far this month, about 6.01 percent of the 1,065 cases confirmed during the past year, according to county data.

Jefferson County confirmed 10 cases during March, about 2.89 percent of the 346 cases confirmed in the past year, according to county Public Health data.

Twenty-one COVID-19 cases were active as of Thursday in Clallam County. Jefferson County had two active cases.

Jefferson County is in the state’s low-risk category with a case rate of about 22 per 100,000 population for the two weeks prior as of Saturday, while Clallam County is in the state’s moderate-risk category with a case rate of 37 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior to Thursday.

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected]

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