Jefferson County’s health officer expects one of the two cases of COVID-19 confirmed on Thursday to be an early indication of a spike after a recent party at Tarboo Lake.
Of the two new cases in Jefferson County, one contracted the virus out of county and the other is connected to what Dr. Tom Locke described Thursday as a growing cluster of cases connected with a recent party at Tarboo Lake.
Jefferson County has stayed for two weeks in a low-risk category of 25 cases per 100,000 population or less, while Clallam County — which added Thursday three more cases to its total since the pandemic began — is in the high-risk category with 98 cases per 100,000 for the past two weeks, a figure above the state threshold of 75 cases per 100,000.
The risk difference has led to Jefferson County school districts planning a hybrid system of partial online and in-person teaching when they reopen next month while Clallam County school districts have been told they should begin in the fall with online-only instruction.
But Jefferson County’s status could change, Locke said.
The Tarboo Lake party was part of a pattern, he said.
Recent weekends have brought large crowds to Tarboo Lake, with people not following social distancing and masking guidelines and partying, which has led to an outbreak, Locke said.
“We have identified now multiple cases to this outbreak, including one of our current ones,” Locke said.
“Although we know the cases are linked, we don’t know if it was caused by a specific exposure to this gathering, but the most recent case in Jefferson County is generating a lot of contacts.
“So far we have 23 contacts from this one case, and it’s growing.
“So, this something similar to what Clallam County and other counties have been dealing with, where people are just outright ignoring the requirements to limit the group size, and mask and distance when you’re with non-household members,” Locke continued.
“It’s important for people in Jefferson County to realize that the risk to being exposed to someone with COVID-19 is ever present; just because you’re in Jefferson County and we have a lower case rate than neighboring counties does not somehow mean you can engage in reckless behavior and be guaranteed that there won’t be consequences.”
Several tests have been sent to labs, and Locke said he expects more cases to be confirmed over the next few days.
Jefferson County as of Thursday had 64 cases since March while Clallam County was at 174.
Fifty-two cases have recovered in Jefferson County and 171 cases have recovered in Clallam County, county public health data said.
The new cases in Clallam County are believed to have been contracted in the community, with one of them a household member of an already confirmed case, said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.
Unthank and other Clallam County officials are focusing on investigations at restaurants and taverns to make sure they’re following infection protocols to prevent future outbreaks such as the one Unthank said occurred at Bourbon West.
Unthank said Bourbon West in Port Angeles had not followed protocols. Bourbon West owner Jake Oppelt has said exposures were at a party off-site.
In an answer to questions about when public health officials name businesses linked to outbreaks, Unthank said they try to avoid it unless there is a high risk to the public.
“One occasion when we will do that, it is due to either inability or lack of cooperation of the owner, we are unable to contact everyone who might have been exposed or everyone who was exposed,” Unthank said.
“So, when we believe there is a large public exposure and are not getting the cooperation we need to get names of those who are exposed, we do have an obligation to make a public announcement so those who were exposed can get tested and go into quarantine,” she continued.
“It is hard in these kind of situations,” she said. “We don’t want to punish the many restaurants and businesses that are working hard to follow COVID-19 guidelines, but we also believe that it is inherently unfair and dangerous for businesses who ignore safety guidelines.”
Olympic Medical Center has a drive-through COVID-19 testing site open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. seven days a week, for community members who are case contacts without symptoms and pre-procedural testing.
The drive-up testing site is in the parking lot immediately west of 1035 Caroline St. in Port Angeles.
Community members with symptoms should talk to their primary care providers or go to the Walk-in Clinic or emergency department to seek appropriate care, OMC stated in a press release.
Originally scheduled to open Aug. 24, OMC leadership chose to make it available early due to a high number of known exposures in the community, the release stated.
Patients will not be billed for COVID-19 tests.
“However, in most cases, a patient’s health insurance will be billed if they have it,” said Dr. Josh Jones, chief physician officer, Olympic Medical Physicians. “Additional services and treatments may be billed as well.
“Insurance billing exceptions occur for tests run through the state lab for specific contact tracing purposes – those are not billed to insurance.”
Jefferson Healthcare in Port Townsend has had a drive-through testing clinic since this spring. To make an appointment, call 360-344-3094.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 360-385-2335, ext. 5.