More lab samples from Clallam and Jefferson counties have tested negative for COVID-19, keeping the number of confirmed cases on the North Olympic Peninsula at one, health officials said Tuesday.
Public health officers in Clallam and Jefferson counties continued to monitor the community transmission that is now occurring in the Seattle area.
“Like we’ve talked about before, we do suspect there is some COVID-19 virus in our community at low levels but we just can’t pick it up because we can’t get enough testing at this point,” said Dr. Allison Berry Unthank, Clallam County Health Officer.
In a daily status briefing Tuesday, Unthank said there had been eight negative COVID-19 tests and five pending samples. Clallam County has had no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus.
Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said there were eight negative tests and more than 16 tests that were pending tests as of 2:15 p.m. Tuesday.
Jefferson County has had one patient who tested positive for COVID-19 last week and is “doing fine,” Locke said.
“What we are eagerly waiting for is the testing data from the University of Washington,” Locke said in a telephone interview.
“By the end of this week, we will have a much better idea as to whether there is indeed this kind of low-level (COVID-19) infection on the Peninsula.”
The Jefferson County coronavirus patient, a man in his 60s, contracted COVID-19 during a recent visit to Kirkland and is recovering at home.
Clallam County health care workers provided medical care to the patient.
“We were able to track down all that person’s contacts,” Unthank said Tuesday.
“There is one person on quarantine until tomorrow, and everyone else was actually a low-risk exposure because they were wearing their proposal protective equipment.”
The state Department of Health reported on Tuesday that there were 267 confirmed COVID-19 cases statewide, 244 of which occurred in heavily-populated King and Snohomish counties.
Major Seattle events like the Emerald City Comic Con have been postponed because of coronavirus concerns and the University of Washington has switched to online instruction.
Closures not recommended
Health officials on the North Olympic Peninsula are not recommending that events be canceled or postponed. All schools in Clallam and Jefferson counties remain open.
“We have a lot less virus here than in places like King County and Snohomish County,” Unthank said.
“I think a lot of folks are seeing the news that things are getting closed over there and wondering why we aren’t we doing that here, and basically it’s because what’s happening here is different than what’s happening there.”
Most of those who contract COVID-19 have mild, common, cold-like symptoms or might have no signs of illness at all, health officials said.
About 20 percent have more severe influenza-like illness with fever, cough and shortness of breath. Of those, some will develop severe illness requiring hospitalization and advanced medical care.
Those at greatest risk of developing complications are people over age 60, pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, lung disease and diabetes.
Unthank recommended that people in high risk groups consider social distancing — the practice of staying 6 feet from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
Generalized social distancing is recommended in places with high rates of coronavirus transmission like King or Snohomish counties.
Health officials recommend that all people stay home from work or school when sick, wash hands thoroughly, avoid touching their faces and clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
“When we have community-level transmission, when people are spreading it person-to-person within the community, that’s typically when we would ramp up the social distancing,” Locke said Tuesday.
There is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed.
“This virus — even through you might hear other things on some news channels — is not spread by asymptomatic people,” Unthank said.
“You don’t have to be scared of sending your kids to after-school activities as long as the other kids aren’t sick.”
Clallam County health officials have contracted with LabCorp, a private company that is prioritizing hospital specimens, to reduce the lag time in processing COVID-19 tests, Unthank said.
Initially, it took about seven days for COVID-19 test results to be returned from the state Department of Health lab in Shoreline.
Locks said the UW Medicine lab has been processing samples “much faster than the public health labs.”
“Right now, turnaround time for (LabCorp) is 48 hours,” Unthank said.
“So we’re getting faster.”
Twelve of the 13 Clallam County COVID-19 tests were sampled at Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles. Nasal swab samples are taken by health care providers wearing masks and other personal protective equipment.
One sample that was taken at Forks Community Hospital on Monday is pending, Unthank said.
Most of Jefferson County’s COVID-19 lab samples were generated by Jefferson Healthcare.
Olympic Medical Center spokeswoman Bobby Beeman reported normal operations and a stable patient census Tuesday.
Unthank predicted that health officials would be “dealing with COVID-19 for months.”
“There will be a time in the future when this is worse than it is now,” Unthank said.
“And at that time, we may well start closing events.”
Unthank said it would be “disruptive” and unnecessary to close public events in the absence of community-level transmission.
“Right now, there’s so little virus in the community it won’t help, and you also won’t get to do anything fun or see your friends or get services that you need,” Unthank said.
“If there comes a point where we have to start doing that, we will do it very seriously.
“Right now, enjoy your life,” Unthank said.
A Jefferson Healthcare nurse consult line is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays at 360-344-3094.
A Clallam County COVID-19 hotline is available at 360-417-2430.
For the latest updates on COVID-19 on the Peninsula, visit www.peninsuladailynews.com/tag/coronavirus.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].