Health officers concerned about weekend political rally

Clallam reports one new case, Jefferson no new infections

One new case of COVID-19 has been confirmed in Clallam County, while Jefferson County held with no new cases for 10 consecutive days.

Both counties remain in the state’s low-risk category, with infection rates lower than 25 new cases per 100,000 population for the past two weeks.

The state Department of Health released a report last week stating its contact tracers have been having difficulty making contact with confirmed COVID-19 cases in a timely manner and/or people have been reluctant to share information.

That has not been the case with Peninsula public health departments, as contact tracers have been able to reach the majority of people involved with cases and their contacts, and people have been willing to share information, health officials said.

“By and large, people have been quite receptive to us,” said Dr. Allison Unthank, the Clallam County health officer. “We’ve really had much more success [than the state] when we call folks.

“I think it comes from hearing from someone local or someone who seems to know your story, seems to make it a little more acceptable to talk to us. I can only think of two cases where people were resistant to give us information of all the cases.

“We even had a case where the state said the person wouldn’t talk to them, so we called them back and they were willing to talk to our staff.”

The new case in Clallam County is suspected to have contracted the novel coronavirus through out-of-county exposure and is isolating at home, Unthank said.

Separately, the recent COVID-19 patient who was hospitalized in the county was discharged on Monday, she said.

Clallam County has had 236 COVID-19 cases since March, with eight active infections and one death, according to Clallam County Public Health data.

Clallam County’s rate is 17 cases per 100,000 for the past two weeks as of Monday, Unthank said.

Jefferson County hasn’t had a new case since an asymptomatic one was discovered Sept. 11 during a pre-procedural test, and it has had a total of 71 infections since March, with one active case and no deaths, said Dr. Tom Locke, the county health officer.

Jefferson County’s rate is 3.13 cases per 100,000 for the past two weeks, and it may drop to zero this week if no new cases are found, Locke said.

Both health officers are concerned about a possible uptick in cases as a result of the rally on behalf of Republican gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp on Saturday at the Extreme Sports Park west of Port Angeles.

Reports indicated a crowd of more than 1,300 people who were largely unmasked and not following social distancing guidelines, although being outside may have provided some benefit to preventing spread of COVID-19, health officials said.

If either county sees cases that originate from the rally, they will most likely appear starting next week, and the counties will be monitoring for them for two additional weeks, Locke and Unthank said.

“At least the reports that we got, a lot of people were congregating, they were in close proximity, and they weren’t wearing masks,” Locke said. “That’s what causes outbreaks. If no one at that rally had COVID-19, then nothing will happen. If people were at the rally and were carrying the infection, then we can start to see cases.”

If someone did contract the virus at the rally, Unthank urges them to get tested and communicate with Peninsula health departments, saying they won’t be judged by staff for how they may have contracted it.

“We were helped by the fact that it was outdoors, but when you see large groups of people close together and unmasked, there is certainly a risk for transmission,” Unthank said. “If anyone gets sick who was at that rally, we will be more than happy to support you and take care of you.

“We don’t care how you got COVID-19, we just want to make sure that you’re safe,” she added. “If you did go to a gathering of any size that wasn’t distanced, it’s still really important to get tested, and you won’t be judged if you get a call from a contact tracer, no matter how you got it.”

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

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