An outbreak of COVID-19 among Clallam County jail staff had increased to five cases by Saturday afternoon as the health officer reported the highest case rate countywide since the pandemic began.
Also, last week, Olympic Medical Center reported that four outpatient clinic employees had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
On Friday, Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, reported four cases among staff at the county jail. By Saturday afternoon, another case had been confirmed, she said.
All five positive test results are among staff members.
“The first round of inmate testing came back negative,” Berry said in an email on Saturday. “We’ll repeat that weekly, and of course if any symptoms arise.
Of the staff members who have tested positive, three are unvaccinated and two are vaccinated, Berry said.
The two vaccinated cases are mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic, she added.
Clallam County set a new record on Friday for the highest case rate the county has recorded since the start of the pandemic. Friday’s case rate was 217 cases per 100,000 population for the two weeks prior, Berry said.
The second highest case rate was recorded in November 2020 during the holiday season surge, with a case rate 216 cases per 100,000.
Jefferson County has reached 147.34 cases per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of July 31, the second highest case rate it has reported since the pandemic began and Berry expects that it will increase on Monday, when the new case rate is calculated, she said.
Jefferson County’s highest case rate of 156 per 100,000 was also recorded last November during the holiday season surge, Berry said.
Clallam County had added nine new COVID-19 cases on Friday, raising its total number of cases to 1,768 since the pandemic began, according to public health data. No update other than the additional jail case was available on Saturday.
Jefferson County added seven new COVID-19 cases Friday, raising its total number of cases to 541 since the pandemic began, according to public health data.
Neither county updates its data on weekends.
Berry said Friday it is believed that one of the staff members at the Clallam County jail was exposed to COVID-19 by a family member outside of the facility and then infected other staff members.
“We’re working very closely with the sheriff’s department to limit spread,” Berry said Friday. “The sheriff’s department has actually been very proactive in participating with our department on limiting spread.
“I was just in a meeting with them (Friday) morning to make sure they’re doing everything possible to limit transmission.”
Sheriff Bill Benedict said Friday that the jail tests staff members daily and inmates weekly. Inmates are checked for vaccination status when they arrive.
“We have been very religious in protocols of masking and isolating our inmates,” Benedict said.
“As soon as we got the first reports in we acted very aggressively to protect the inmates as well as the rest of the staff.”
Last year, the jail capacity was cut from 125 to 85 to allow for greater social distancing among inmates, Benedict said. As of Friday, the jail census was 74.
On Aug. 4, four Olympic Medical Center (OMC) employees tested positive for COVID-19, said Bobby Beeman, OMC spokesperson.
Although all four work in the same outpatient clinic, some of the personnel have living and social circumstances outside of work and it is suspected that the virus was contracted through community-based exposure, Beeman said in an email late Thursday afternoon.
All four employees have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Only three are exhibiting any symptoms and none seriously ill at this time, Beeman said.
Extensive contract tracing is currently underway so the area of the organization is currently closed, but health care transmission is believed to be unlikely due to extensive safety protocols and personal protective equipment usage, Beeman said.
“We’d like to emphasize that we err on the side of extreme caution during contract tracing and when precluding employees from work,” stated Darryl Wolfe, chief executive officer, Olympic Medical Center.
“We recognize that closing any clinical area for a couple days is disruptive for patients. However, our priority is to minimize any potential transmission of COVID-19 in our facilities.”
Due to the high level of transmission of COVID-19 in both counties, Berry is not surprised that cases are again starting to spill into health care workers and is concerned about the spread to them and other critical workers.
“It’s deeply concerning to start to see positive cases among workers in the hospital setting and among first responders,” she said.
“These are really critical workers, so when we get positive cases among them, it gets even harder to run critical infrastructure that we need.”
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected]
Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected].