Number of confirmed cases on Peninsula unchanged

Jefferson County still in low-risk category; Clallam in moderate risk

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases remained unchanged for a sixth consecutive day on the North Olympic Peninsula on Thursday.

Public health officers in Clallam and Jefferson counties are working to provide more information and testing access to rural areas.

Clallam County held at 221 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since March for six days as of Thursday, and Jefferson County held at 70 confirmed cases since March for 10 days.

The case rates for both counties also held Thursday with 29 cases per 100,000 population for the past two weeks in Clallam County, placing it in the moderate-risk category, and 9.4 cases per 100,000 in Jefferson County, which is in the low-risk category.

The recently hospitalized patient in Clallam County was discharged on Thursday.

“It was pretty rough there for a little while, but he got excellent care, and he’s doing much better, and he’s going home today,” said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.

Clallam County officials are continuing their outreach to the West End to reach possibly under-tested areas and educate about the dangers of COVID-19, Unthank said.

Jefferson County officials are working on plans to provide testing access to southern Jefferson County, as the only testing sites currently are in Port Townsend at Jefferson Healthcare hospital, said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.

Chimacum, Port Townsend and Brinnon school districts began in-person instruction in a hybrid model, and Locke has been in daily contact with district officials on how the new COVID-19 protocols have been working.

“So far, so good,” Locke said. “We’re sort of working out the kinks of our screening process, but I’d say it’s going well for the first week.”

Unthank is working with public school districts in Clallam County — which now are all providing online instruction only — to prepare to possibly bring students back into classrooms.

She has said previously that if Clallam County stays in the moderate-risk category, there’s a possibility some students may return to the classroom in early October.

“We’re working to ensure those plans are ready and kind of working out any kinks that are showing up,” Unthank said.

Both counties also are preparing for the future distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, considering how different populations will be prioritized.

“I think we could likely have some small amount of doses for very high-risk populations towards the end of the year, providing vaccines for folks in long-term care facilities, for example, for people who are very high-risk, but for widespread availability for the entire population, we’re probably looking at early next year,” Unthank said.

Locke said: “There’s going to be a lot of logistic challenges, especially because we don’t know what vaccines will end up being approved,” he said.

“At this point, it certainly looks like the state Department of Health and the local health departments and tribal health jurisdictions will be the main distributors of the vaccine. The first wave of vaccines will be very targeted. They will go to high-priority groups — however we define that. Certainly front-line health workers and first responders are at highest risk.”

Locke further explained that the following priorities will depend on the vaccine’s effectiveness within certain populations — such as if it works better in older populations than in younger ones and what national scientific bodies recommend to do the most good.

Locke is encouraged by the low prevalence of virus transmission in Jefferson County.

“The low prevalence in Jefferson County, among other things, means that people are really doing a good job at masking and distancing and hand washing and limited group sizing,” Locke said. “So I applaud and appreciate all the work and sacrifice that takes from everyone in the community.

“But I just remind everyone that this is a marathon. We’re nine months into this and probably halfway to the end of the pandemic,” he added.

“We’re hopeful that, by the late spring, early summer of next year, we’ll have a substantial number of Americans that will be vaccinated, and this will pretty much be over.”

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

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