Criteria expand for COVID-19 testing

Jefferson County to follow same guidelines as Clallam County

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County health officials, having received more test kits, have expanded the parameters of the criteria for residents who can be swab-tested for COVID-19 if they show symptoms, such as shortness of breath, fever, a cough or a sore throat.

The testing boundaries include corrections officers, the homeless community, including those in shelters, and residents who live in congregate settings, such as long-term elderly care facilities, county Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry Unthank said Wednesday at the daily coronavirus briefing.

Jefferson County is following the same testing guidelines as Clallam County, said Dr. Tom Locke, that county’s public health officer, in a separate interview.

“The key is the congregate care setting,” Locke said Wednesday.

No new confirmed cases of the coronavirus were reported in Clallam or Jefferson counties as of Wednesday.

The total number remained at 25, with 17 in Jefferson County and eight in Clallam.

Locke and Unthank cited a recent modeling study by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation that showed hospital-bed use and COVID-19 deaths nationally will peak April 15 (tinyurl.com/PDN-CovidInfo).

They said coronavirus cases in Clallam and Jefferson counties likely will peak by the end of April, if not later.

“We’re likely to be two weeks at least later than that, maybe even more,” Locke said.

“It all depends on how good a job people do with staying home and social distancing.”

Washington state residents, along with more than 80 percent of Americans, are under stay-at-home orders that Gov. Jay Inslee has indicated he will extend beyond Monday.

“Now and the next month is absolutely critical as to whether we can manage the surge, or it exceeds our capacity on the North Olympic Peninsula,” Locke said.

Olympic Medical Center has about 1,000 test kits available, according to hospital officials.

“If you have mild symptoms and you live in a shelter, we would test you,” Unthank said.

That includes people living at Serenity House in west Port Angeles and those who will be living at a temporary shelter being outfitted for more than 100 people at the Port of Port Angeles 1010 building just east of Serenity House.

Clallam County Undersheriff Ron Cameron, a Clallam emergency operations center supervisor, said 150 cots were being transported Wednesday to the new Port Angeles shelter.

Locke said Jefferson County emergency operations center officials are working to provide a similar shelter for that county’s homeless population and a contingency plan if Jefferson Healthcare hospital runs out of beds.

In Clallam County, the 25,000-square-foot area will open by April 14 for people who are homeless and cannot live somewhere where social distancing of 6 feet or more can be imposed.

Those being tested also include people older than 60 who need medical attention if they are sick enough with symptoms to need a doctor.

They also include healthcare workers and first responders, none of whom in Clallam County had been diagnosed with the virus as of Wednesday, Unthank said.

In addition, no one who lives in a long-term care facility — people older than 60 are highly susceptible to the virus — has tested positive in Clallam and Jefferson counties, Unthank and Locke said.

Those who believe they should be tested should call their primary care doctors first, Unthank said.

Unthank and other health officials urge residents not to show up at the Olympic Medical Center, Forks Community Hospital or Jefferson Healthcare hospital emergency rooms without first consulting a doctor.

Unless a person needs hospitalization, “nothing is going to change for you if you test positive,” Unthank said.

“If you [test] positive, you still need to stay home.

“If you are negative, you also need to stay home if you are sick with something.”

People with advanced chronic pulmonary obstructive disease (COPD), for example, are especially susceptible, Unthank said.

“If you are very short of breath, you do need to get seen,” she said.

Clallam health care officials still did not know as of Wednesday the origin of the first community transmission of the highly contagious disease reported earlier this week, a man who infected his wife.

“We are working to prevent large-scale outbreaks,” Unthank said.

The best way to do that is by social distancing of 6 feet or more, a space within which virus-laden droplets can infect others from an infected person who is sneezing or coughing.

Unthank did not recommend that the general public wear face masks, which are in short supply, saying they provide minimal benefits, although the national Centers for Disease control is reconsidering that rule.

“We’ve learned there’s a fair amount of asymptomatic spread, and so we’ve asked the CDC to take another look at whether or not having more people wear masks will prevent transmission of the disease to other people,” Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Wednesday on “Good Morning America.”

Locke said the recommendations are in flux and predicted they will change toward advising the public to wear masks as a general rule but said there are several factors to consider.

They are in sort supply, but when used, they do collect droplets from asymptomatic people, “a good thing,” he said.

When made properly, home-made cloth masks can be effective, Locke added.

But another downside is it gives an illusion of safety that can lead people to incorrectly, and with potentially infecting results, violate social distancing guidelines that both health officers see as vital to preventing the spread of the virus.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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