Jefferson County was randomly selected along with eight other rural counties to be the focus of a University of Washington zero prevalence study that is recording the number of people with antibodies for COVID-19.
The selection of people to be tested is random. Residents of the county may receive a letter and/or phone call from the university asking for them to participate by providing a blood sample to be tested for antibodies, said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer, on Tuesday.
Antibody studies like this one help officials understand how many people have been infected with COVID-19 even if they earlier tested negative for the virus or had been asymptomatic and didn’t get tested at all, Locke said.
The study should be starting soon, if people haven’t already started to be contacted, said Locke, who was briefed on it three weeks ago.
He said he was told the university planned to begin the study two to three weeks from that time.
“These things are always more logistically difficult to pull off than they think at the beginning, but they do have the funding and the testing capacity, they have all the ingredients,” Locke said. “So the way it was presented I anticipated it would begin sometime during the month of October.”
Two new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Jefferson County on Tuesday, while Clallam County held steady with no new cases.
The means of transmission for the new cases in Jefferson County remained under investigation on Tuesday.
The new case rate in Clallam County rose to 21 cases per 100,000 residents for the last two weeks, due to delays in test reporting, so it now officially counts Monday’s cases, said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.
Jefferson County calculates its case rate once a week. As of Monday, the case rate was about 22 cases per 100,000 for the two weeks prior, according to Jefferson County Public Health data.
Locke and Unthank attended a meeting with health officers from around the state Monday evening. They expected to discuss the state’s Safe Start plan and whether applications to enter an upgraded phase would be accepted again soon, but that was not the case, Locke said.
Instead, the conversation focused on the status of the state, where rising numbers of the virus are being reported, and how the different health districts are doing in light of that, Locke said.
“What we’re doing right now is not enough to suppress a slow growth of cases,” he said.
However, Jefferson and Clallam counties are currently in better positions than many parts of the state that are seeing significant rises in case numbers, Unthank said.
Unthank cited a combination of community members following COVID-19 prevention guidelines such as mask wearing and social distancing, as well as contact tracing for helping keep case numbers lower than in many parts of the state.
“We have seen pretty good adherence to guidelines in the communities — we could always do better — but the vast majority of citizens are working hard to follow guidelines,” Unthank said.
“The nice thing is once you get to numbers this low…we have the ability in the health department to contact-trace those cases and really try to shut down outbreaks before they start. Whereas in many parts of the state, they’re just kind of trying to stop the bleeding when they catch a case.”
The contact tracing the counties are able to do can focus on possible sources of the infection as well as preventing future cases, Unthank said.
Clallam County has confirmed 267 cases of COVID-19 since March, with 10 active cases and one death, according to Clallam County Public Health data.
Jefferson County has confirmed 83 cases of COVID-19 since March, with 12 active cases and no deaths, according to Jefferson County Public Health data.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5 or at [email protected].