Jefferson County issues first report of COVID-19 death

Elderly woman was in hospice care for other ailments

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County ascribed a woman’s death to COVID-19 on Wednesday morning in its first report of a death related to the virus.

The death of the Jefferson County woman, who was in her 90s and in hospice care for other ailments, is the only COVID-19-related death confirmed in the county. Clallam County has reported two deaths from the virus.

One additional case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Jefferson County on Wednesday. Clallam County confirmed six new cases Wednesday, and the county’s health officer said she expects the recent rise in cases to be followed by an increase in hospitalizations.

As of Wednesday, two people were hospitalized in Jefferson County for COVID-19, said Dr. Tom Locke, county health officer.

Three patients were hospitalized in Clallam County with one in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), said Dr. Allison Unthank, county health officer.

The Jefferson County woman who died Tuesday had a confirmed case of COVID-19, Locke said. Her death was certified to have been caused by COVID-19 on Wednesday morning, he added.

She was in hospice care for other underlying medical conditions, but the certifying physician determined COVID-19 was the cause of death, Locke said.

She was not taken to the hospital when she was diagnosed with COVID-19, as she was already under care at her place of residence, he said.

“It’s a tragic thing when [a death] occurs,” Locke said. “She was on hospice, so it was inappropriate to hospitalize her. Generally people who are in hospice care, the whole point is you avoid heroic measures or hospitalizations.

“She was being cared for but not in the hospital.”

The death rate of COVID-19 cases is about 2 percent statewide.

Aging population

With Jefferson County’s high percentage of older residents — 37 percent are 65 or older — Locke said it is “extraordinary” that a death hadn’t been reported until now.

“Jefferson County has the oldest population in Washington state,” Locke said. “That constitutes a large risk group and amongst those senior citizens — of which I’m one — there is a very high percentage of people in their 80s and 90s, which is a very high-risk group for COVID-19 complications and mortality.”

The trend of new cases in Jefferson County is among younger community members with most connected to other cases that Jefferson County Public Health has been investigating stemming from social and religious gatherings, Locke said.

The new cases in Clallam County are contacts of prior confirmed cases, Unthank said.

Hospitals on the North Olympic Peninsula have so far been spared from large numbers of COVID-19 cases, but that could easily change if case numbers continue to climb, Unthank said.

“So far we’ve been really quite lucky on that score,” she said. “Generally, we see a rise in hospitalizations two weeks after a rise in cases, so we would anticipate that rise showing up sometime in the next week or so.

“I think we’re all preparing for it, as some of our earlier search plans are no longer an option, because we can no longer accept help from others in the state. We and our hospital partners know we need to plan largely to care for any Olympic Peninsula patients here.”

Clallam County has confirmed 456 cases of COVID-19 since March, with 170 confirmed during November. There are a 121 active cases in Clallam County and more than 400 people in quarantine due to exposure to a confirmed case, Unthank said.

Jefferson County has confirmed 152 cases of COVID-19 since March, with 64 confirmed during November. There are 25 active cases and more than 60 people in quarantine due to exposure, Locke said.

Both counties continue to be in the state’s high-risk category with case rates of 188 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks in Clallam County and about 157 per 100,000 for the same time period in Jefferson County, Unthank and Locke said.

The test positivity percentage — the rate of COVID-19 tests that return positive — in Clallam County was 5.3 percent from Nov. 8-22, and Jefferson County’s was 3.47 percent from Nov. 15-22, Unthank and Locke said.

Case numbers are updated online daily in Clallam County at clallam.net/coronavirus and Monday through Friday in Jefferson County at co.jefferson.wa.us/1466/Case-Information.

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

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