COVID-19 cases continue rise on Peninsula

Sequim School District reports positive infection

As COVID-19 cases rise on the North Olympic Peninsula, Sequim School District officials announced Wednesday that one staff member has tested positive and exposed a few staff members.

No students have been exposed, district officials emphasized in a press release issued Wednesday.

All parties are now in isolation and quarantine for 14 days, they said. Staff contact was on Friday; none of the staff who were potentially exposed — being within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more — have been to school since, officials said.

Clallam County confirmed 13 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, while Jefferson County added two additional cases, county health officers said.

Both counties are in the state’s high-risk category with case rates of 96 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks in Clallam County and 100.31 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior in Jefferson County as of Monday.

The new cases in Jefferson County are contacts of prior confirmed cases, said Dr. Tom Locke, county health officer.

The new cases in Clallam County stem primarily from workplace outbreaks among food industry workers and people traveling out of the county to gatherings, said Dr. Allison Unthank, county health officer.

Some transmission during indoor dining has been seen, so Unthank welcomed Gov. Jay Inslee’s restrictions on restaurants and bars to take-out and outdoor dining, which took effect Wednesday.

“We’ve known that eating out indoors is a risk for transmitting the virus, and we’re starting to see that,” Unthank said.

“The good news is, given the governor’s orders, we should not see much more of that going forward, at least for a little while, but these cases happened before the order went into effect.”

Unthank and the Clallam County Public Health team are investigating several other outbreaks as well. They are connected to a long-term care facility, a Sequim church, a physical therapy clinic, a health care facility, a Halloween party and a wedding, she said.

Unthank won’t name the facilities under outbreak investigation, leaving that announcement to the facility itself, unless her team can’t trace all the potential contacts, she said.

“Our primary goal is to limit transmission at the facility, and of course, within that, we notify anyone who may have been exposed,” Unthank said.

“What we don’t want is, wherever this [long-term care] facility is, for the dedicated staff who are going in there every day and risking contracting the virus, for them to be harassed.”

Both Locke and Unthank continue to urge residents to follow COVID-19 precautions such as mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing while with anyone who is not a household member.

“We’re having increased transmission among people who are close contacts,” Locke said, “which tends to mean that people are not using adequate precautions with non-household members.

“The things that are really driving this are people who should be masking and distancing, and if they were, they’d tend not to be infected,” he continued.

“Even if a person in their workplace or in their social circles were to get infected, that transmission should be rare in those circumstances.”

The transmission rates are at their highest of the pandemic on the North Olympic Peninsula.

Following the transmission prevention guidelines and restrictions is crucial for bringing numbers down, Locke said.

“People have to understand that things have changed and that we’ve entered into a new phase of this,” he said. “This is going to be the most difficult one of all, and we can manage it if people really take it seriously.

“We’re up against limited hospital capacity throughout the state,” he added. “We need to preserve that for the people who are the most seriously ill with COVID-19 and also the other people that need hospitals. That’s a top priority.

“We need people to start making sacrifices for the public good. If they have holiday plans, they need to cancel those plans. If they have non-essential travel plans, they need to cancel those things.”

Locke admitted these are big sacrifices but said “if not a lot of people do that, we will experience what a lot of these other states are experiencing, and that’s sort of this runaway infection.”

Clallam County has confirmed 365 cases of COVID-19 since March, with 70 active cases, more than 300 people in quarantine due to exposure and two deaths, Unthank said.

Jefferson County has confirmed 127 cases since March, with at least 24 active cases, more than 60 people in quarantine due to exposure and no deaths, Locke said.

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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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