Health officials prepare for surge in COVID-19 cases

Holiday gatherings may bring spike within the next two weeks

Clallam County confirmed 17 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, while Jefferson County held steady with no new confirmed cases.

Both counties continue to be in the state’s high-risk category. Clallam County’s case rate is 232 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks, while Jefferson County is about 138 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Monday.

The high-risk category is for counties with rates above 75 cases per 100,000 for two weeks.

The recent cases in Clallam County have stemmed primarily from workplace exposures, small indoor social and family gatherings, and church outbreaks in Sequim, said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.

As of Wednesday, there were four Clallam residents hospitalized and one Jefferson resident hospitalized, said Unthank and Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.

Two people were discharged from the hospital in Clallam County, while two others were moved from ICU.

“No one is in the intensive care unit, so that’s a hopeful step,” Unthank said.

The long-term care facility which has had a COVID-19 outbreak that Clallam County Public Health has been investigating has not had any additional cases since last Wednesday, holding at 18 staff members and four residents infected, Unthank said.

The facility needs to be clear of new cases for two weeks for the outbreak investigation to be closed, she added.

There are two churches in Sequim that also are under outbreak investigations, with fewer than 10 cases each, said Unthank, who will not identify facilities with outbreaks.

“In-person church services are a relatively risky activity right now,” she said. “Large groups of people indoors, even with spacing and masking, does pose the risk of transmission.”

Unthank urges residents to either utilize online methods for religious services or be extremely careful if attending with mask wearing, distancing and not singing.

Both health officers are preparing for an expected surge in COVID-19 cases stemming from Thanksgiving holiday gatherings. If the surge happens, it will be within the next two weeks, they said.

They also expect to see rising case numbers as colder weather keeps people indoors and as they become more weary of following guidelines to protect against the pandemic.

“The more people get fatigued and gather indoors, the more cases we’ll see,” Unthank said. “We do have to stay vigilant through the winter to keep our community safe.”

Locke said: “We’re bracing for another surge in cases, driven by holiday gatherings, holiday travel and just the fact an infectious disease like this is kind of a chain reaction; the more cases you have, the more future cases you’re likely to have.

“Unfortunately, all the trend lines say we’ll see an increasing number of cases. A lot of people nationally are saying we’re facing the darkest days and the most difficult period of the pandemic so far, and I agree with that.”

This is the time for people to band to together to follow prevention protocols such as mask wearing, social distancing and avoiding indoor gatherings to prevent further spread, Locke said.

“I think we can face it successfully,” he said. “This is not something that should scare people, it’s not something that should make them give up due to fatigue and frustration.

“People need to unify under the same message. We’ve been way too polarized as a nation and a community, and it’s really hurt us with dealing with the pandemic,” Locke continued.

“You don’t have to agree with everyone politically on everything to agree that preventing illness and death is a common value that we should all share.”

Unthank is concerned by the 5.1 percent positive return on the COVID-19 tests conducted in Clallam County between Nov. 15-29, saying it means there are more cases circulating in the community that are not being found.

“It tells us that there are far more cases out there than we know about,” she said.

“I think it just really drives home the critical importance of assuming anyone you come in contact with could potentially be positive for COVID-19.”

Jefferson County’s percent positive dropped slightly last week from 3.47 percent to 3.19 percent, Locke said.

Both counties are preparing for distribution of vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna that are being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration for potential authorization this month, with frontline health care workers, first responders and long-term care facility staff and residents as the first priority groups, Locke and Unthank said.

Clallam County has confirmed 533 cases of COVID-19 since March, with 178 active cases, more than 500 people in quarantine due to exposure and four deaths, according to Clallam County Public Health data.

Jefferson County has confirmed 170 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since March, with 15 active cases, more than 40 people in quarantine due to exposure and one death, according to Jefferson County Public Health data.

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Jefferson County Reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at [email protected].

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