Clusters blamed for rising Jefferson County numbers

Health officer: Outbreaks easier to track than individuals

Jefferson County Public Health officials have isolated three COVID-19 outbreaks that saw the county’s case numbers rise from eight to 26 last week.

The outbreaks, referred to as clusters, were primarily responsible for the county’s case rate recalculation of 106.58 per 100,000 population as of Saturday, said Dr. Tom Locke, the county health officer.

Clallam County’s case rate was at 88 per 100,000 as of Monday.

Jefferson County confirmed four new cases Monday, while Clallam County held with no new cases, according to public health data.

Monday’s result in Clallam County could be attributed to testing delays during the weekend, but that wasn’t immediately clear, said Dr. Allison Berry, Clallam County health officer.

While Jefferson County’s increase was concerning, Locke said the majority being grouped together is less worrisome than if they were individual cases.

“These are some of the easier ones to control,” he said. “They’re time-consuming, but it’s relatively easy to identify everyone that’s been exposed, and thus quarantine and test the right people.

“It’s much different when we see isolated cases. It’s much harder and often impossible for us to tell how they became infected. At this during the pandemic, we’ve gotten pretty good to responding to outbreaks. We have protocols we know work.”

The case rates in both counties are significantly lower than the average state case rate of 392 per 100,000, Locke said.

While the North Olympic Peninsula has been doing better than most of the state in regard to virus transmission, residents can’t afford to let down their guard on prevention measures such as mask wearing, social distancing, avoiding large gatherings and hand washing, Locke said.

“People can not game the system in the sense that if they just stay away from certain places, they’re going to be OK, because the risk is everywhere,” he said. “Hopefully, given that this is outbreak-driven, that this is not going to be a harbinger of things to come.

“A very important message to the community right now is people need to keep up their guard and keep up the things to protect themselves and their families, because the threat is the risk of exposure is as high as it’s ever been in Washington state.”

In addition to people following prevention strategies, the vaccinations that Peninsula healthcare workers have been administering also play a key role in slowing transmission, especially with the more contagious U.K. variant confirmed in the state, but there won’t be enough people vaccinated for several months, Berry said.

Caution is still needed even after someone receives a vaccine doses, she said.

“The main thing we want people to do is don’t celebrate too soon,” Berry said. “People get excited that the vaccines are out, and they start gathering, and it’s too soon.

“I have started hear from folks that they received the first shot of vaccine, and they’re already planning to travel. We strongly recommend against that … really, we don’t want people to dramatically change their lives after the vaccine,” she continued.

“It’s understandable people will want to expand their social circles, which I think can be done safely in a small way, but getting your vaccine does not mean all precautions go out the window.”

She reiterated that the Peninsula is still in a position where cases could drastically increase if people aren’t careful.

“We’ve done well, but we could easily lose that ground,” Berry said. “We have a good shot of never having to experience [hospitals at capacity], but the only way we get there is by following the guidelines and keeping that distance for a few more months.”

Clallam County has confirmed 919 cases of COVID-19 since last March, with none reported in February, according to Clallam County Public Health data.

This month, Jefferson County has confirmed four cases of COVID-19, about 1.3 percent of the 307 it has confirmed since last March, according to Jefferson County Public Health data.

Forty-six COVID-19 cases were active as of Thursday in Clallam County, with two people in the Intensive Care Unit.

Jefferson County had 23 active cases.

The test positivity on the Peninsula — the percentage of tests returned positive — was 3.3 percent in Clallam County for Jan. 15-29, and 4.46 percent in Jefferson County for Jan. 25-31.

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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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