North Olympic Peninsula free of new COVID-19 cases

Officials noticing rise in PPE shortages

No new COVID-19 cases were confirmed on the North Olympic Peninsula on Tuesday, but county officials are noticing shortages in personal protective equipment due to rising case numbers nationwide.

The new infection rate for Clallam County dropped to 20 new cases per 100,000 residents for the past two weeks, while Jefferson County held at zero new cases for the past two weeks.

One of the recent cases was confirmed to be an Olympic Medical Center (OMC) employee, said Bobby Beeman, marketing and communications director, in a press release Tuesday.

The employee was tested Sunday after noticing symptoms and followed OMC’s protocols by notifying its employee health department and is in quarantine, Beeman said.

OMC and Clallam County Public Health have been contacting the employees and patients who may have been in contact with the individual, and as of Tuesday, no further cases had been confirmed, said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.

Potential exposures were limited to a single clinic, and Unthank expected the contact tracing to be completed by the end of the day Tuesday.

“Anyone who was exposed will be recommended to get tested and to quarantine for 14 days,” Unthank said. “I do want to acknowledge that the person with COVID-19 did everything right.

“As soon as they developed symptoms, they contacted their employee health department and got tested right away, so we were able to be notified quite quickly. We do believe the total number of exposures related to this person are relatively low.”

The hospital, clinics and outpatient departments continue to be safe with strong safety measures, and Beeman said that, through those precautions and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), the risk of transmission in patient and caregiver interactions is very low.

“What we continue to emphasize with the health care workforce and our community is continued vigilance and adherence to universal masking and social-distancing requirements among our friends and co-workers,” said Darryl Wolfe, chief executive officer of OMC, in the press release.

COVID-19 rates are rising in several parts of the nation, and with it, PPE shortages are starting to affect the Peninsula again, specifically in regard to small-sized N95 masks, gloves and gowns, said Unthank and Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.

Both counties do have reserves. However, the N95 shortage has been a chronic problem nationwide throughout the pandemic, Locke said.

“At this point, nine months into the pandemic, the PPE shortages and especially of N95 masks, is a national scandal,” Locke said. “The richest, most technologically advanced country in the world can’t make enough N95 masks to protect the people on the front lines that need them.

“I would’ve never thought that possible.”

The U.S. should have started a crash program in January for creating PPE, he said. Much of the PPE currently being acquired is coming from Asia, he said.

“The only reason we don’t have a worse crisis in the U.S. is because China, Taiwan and, to some degree, South Korea, have done such a good job controlling coronavirus that their factories are all open and making PPE.”

Clallam County has confirmed 243 cases of COVID-19 since March, with 10 active cases and one death, according to Clallam County Public Health data.

Jefferson County has confirmed 71 cases of COVID-19 since March, with no active cases or deaths, according to Jefferson County Public Health data.

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected].

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