North Olympic Peninsula COVID-19 cases cross 1,000 mark on Tuesday

Olympic Medical Center cuts back on surgeries

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases on the North Olympic Peninsula eclipsed the 1,000 mark Tuesday as Clallam County reported seven new cases, including two cases at Olympic Medical Center, while Jefferson County added three additional cases.

Jefferson (236) and Clallam counties (773) have reported a total of 1,009 cases since last March. Clallam and Jefferson counties passed the 100-case mark on July 11. The first of five deaths attributed to COVID-19 on the North Olympic Peninsula occurred Aug. 14.

Olympic Medical Center confirmed two employees tested positive in a press release issued after a Peninsula Daily News inquiry Tuesday about certain surgeries being canceled at the hospital.

Both individuals are experiencing mild symptoms and feeling OK at this time, according to the release.

More than a dozen employees and some providers were precluded from work on Monday and tested. One of those tests came back positive Tuesday morning and contact tracing continues. So far, no additional employees have needed to be precluded from the workplace, according to Jennifer Burkhardt, OMC’s chief human resources officer and general counsel.

All surgeries were back on schedule Tuesday.

“On Monday we did cancel one of our three lines of surgery, as we had employees precluded from work as a cautionary measure after an employee tested positive to COVID-19 after being potentially exposed in the community,” OMC spokesperson Bobby Beeman said in an email. “The simplest way to put it is we are operating three operating rooms or three ‘lines.’ So on Monday we had two of those three rooms running.

“We are performing all surgeries [Tuesday], as scheduled.”

Clallam County Public Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry Unthank said OMC had performed contact tracing of employees and patients who may have had possible exposures to the virus.

“We are aware of that and we are working closely with Olympic Medical Center,” Unthank said. “By the time they called us they had taken all precautionary measures including contact tracing employees and patients and contacting them for quarantine.”

Unthank said the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized remained at one Tuesday after one patient was discharged and another COVID case was admitted.

“Of the seven new cases, two cases are workplace exposures and we have had our first cases related to a holiday gathering,” Unthank said. “A relatively small gathering, in the range of 10 people [were potentially exposed], which is larger than we would like but shouldn’t lead to an excessive number of cases.”

Jefferson County Public Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke confirmed three new COVID-19 cases Tuesday. He said one of the new cases was admitted to Jefferson Healthcare on Monday, bringing the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the county to two.

The state Department of Health is likely to announce today which specific groups will be included in 1B designation, the next phase of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, both Locke and Unthank confirmed Tuesday. Likely members of the 1B group may include people older than 75 and people with high-risk underlying health problems such as diabetes, cancer or other immunity deficiencies.

“[Department of Health] told local health departments that they will be making an announcement about the 1B tier [today],” Locke said.

Unthank said local health officers around the state had some input on what groups are included in the next phase.

“We had the opportunity to share our thoughts on the process with the state, but the state Department of Health has the final call,” Unthank said.

Locke and Unthank discussed passing 1,000 combined cases on the peninsula.

“Every case is a problem because every case can lead to other cases and every case can lead to complications,” Locke said. “It reflects the very widespread nature of the infection. Relatively speaking, even at this unwelcome milestone, it still reflects much lower transmission here than elsewhere in the state.

“…My response is we as a nation are paying the costs for the lack of a national response plan. It’s been every state for ourselves.”

Unthank agreed with Locke, but urged continued caution.

“I think we have on the peninsula, by and large, done better in our attempts to contain the virus,” Unthank said.

“But our success is tenuous. When you have this much virus circulating it is very easy to get out of control. If we see the variant of the virus that recently originated in the United Kingdom and has since spread to Colorado and California, our numbers could rise dramatically.

“So crossing 1,000 cases, those numbers are a reminder that this fight isn’t over and we can’t let our guard down now.”

________

Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or [email protected].

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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