Clallam County Undersheriff Ron Cameron discusses county preparations for the expected spread of coronavirus during a briefing Thursday, March 5, 2020, at the Clallam County Courthouse. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Clallam County Undersheriff Ron Cameron discusses county preparations for the expected spread of coronavirus during a briefing Thursday, March 5, 2020, at the Clallam County Courthouse. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Health authorities say virus is on its way to the Peninsula

UPDATE: Jefferson County man has been confirmed to have contracted COVID-19

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Health officials continuing to monitor the COVID-19 outbreak said Thursday there were no cases confirmed in Clallam or Jefferson counties.

Dr. Allison Berry Unthank, Clallam County health officer, said the North Olympic Peninsula was lagging behind the Puget Sound region for confirmed COVID-19 transmission.

“King County is a couple weeks ahead of where we are in Clallam County,” Unthank said during a Thursday briefing in the Clallam County Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

“We are not closing public events here at this time because we do not have the level of transmission that they do. However, I highly anticipate we are going to see more transmission here in the next couple weeks.”

Health officials say there were 70 confirmed COVID-19 cases statewide as of Thursday, many of which were in the densely-populated Puget Sound region. Eleven of those cases were fatal, authorities said.

Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry Unthank conducts a briefing on the status of COVID-19 prevention in Clallam County as Clallam County Undersheriff Ron Cameron listens in Thursday, March 5, 2020, morning at the Clallam County Emergency Operations Center. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry Unthank conducts a briefing on the status of COVID-19 prevention in Clallam County as Clallam County Undersheriff Ron Cameron listens in Thursday, March 5, 2020, morning at the Clallam County Emergency Operations Center. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Clallam County public health had sent seven samples for testing as of Thursday afternoon. Three of those tests were negative for COVID-19 and four were pending, Unthank said.

“We cannot prevent COVID-19 from coming to our county,” Unthank told about 30 health care, fire district and other officials in the morning briefing.

“I suspect it’s already here.”

Jefferson County Public Health said on Thursday that four tests were pending at the state lab in Shoreline.

Unthank said the state Department of Health was “swamped” with COVID-19 tests from King County.

Samples that originate in Clallam County are now being routed to the University of Washington Medical Center.

“At this point, we are only testing hospitalized patients,” Unthank said. “We are testing hospitalized patents who have severe respiratory symptoms and who have no other known cause of their illness.”

Most people who get COVID-19 experience mild symptoms similar to a cold, heath officials said.

Older adults and people with pre-existing health conditions are at higher risk for developing severe illness.

“For folks who have mild illness, we are recommending not going to the emergency department or the hospital,” Unthank said.

“We are recommending staying home.”

Health officials stress good hand hygiene, minimally touching of the face and staying home when sick to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses.

“If you are sick, I need you to stay home,” Unthank said.

“I need you to take it seriously. Because in you, it might be a cold or flu-like symptoms. In other people, that (virus) could cause severe disease.”

The Clallam County Health Department has posted information about COVID-19 on its website, www.clallam.net. A Clallam County COVID-19 hotline is available at 360-417-2430.

A Jefferson Healthcare nurse consult line for COVID-19 and respiratory illness is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 360-344-3094.

County Undersheriff Ron Cameron said the EOC would be open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to handle the COVID-19 response.

“We’re not going to work this weekend, and the reason for that is we’re kind of at a status quo,” Cameron said.

“We are still looking at no cases here in Clallam County.

“If that changes in the next 24 hours, of course, we’ll staff differently.”

Unthank said there was no evidence of asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19. The virus is spread by extended contact with a person who sneezes or coughs, Unthank said.

Masks are recommended only for people who are providing health care to patients who are ill.

“For people who are well, we are recommending going about your day,” Unthank said.

“But if you are sick, we strongly recommend you stay home, because I cannot tell you whether or not you have COVID-19.”

Unthank said the Clallam County Health Department was relying on the World Health Organization for its COVID-19 response.

Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry Unthank, right, speaks during a briefing on the status of COVID-19 in the county during a briefing Thursday, March 5, 2020, at the Clallam County Courthouse. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry Unthank, right, speaks during a briefing on the status of COVID-19 in the county during a briefing Thursday, March 5, 2020, at the Clallam County Courthouse. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

“Quite honestly, I think our federal responders are a little bit delayed right now in assessing the seriousness of our local situation,” Unthank said.

“So right now, we are moving ahead with taking this quite seriously locally, and we are following the guidance of our World Health Organization partners.”

King County health officials began to recommend the closure of certain events on Thursday, Unthank said.

“We would want to kind of see that widespread transmission before we would do that,” Unthank said.

“For instance, we are not recommending closing schools at this time because closing schools is a really major decision that affects our workforce and their child care.

“It affects a large number of children in Clallam County who get their food through the school,” she added. “And so we do not take the decisions to close schools lightly.”

Unthank said COVID-19 does not appear to severely affect children.

“That is also playing into our decision-making about when we would decide to do something like (close schools),” Unthank said.

“We are not there yet.”

________

Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected]peninsuladailynews.com.

Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean contributed to this story.

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