Olympic Peninsula health officers discuss COVID testing in other schools in state

While some school districts in the state are conducting random COVID-19 testing for students and staff using rapid tests, North Olympic Peninsula school districts have not started the practice.

Local health officers feel the testing might not be reliable, saying rapid tests do not catch asymptomatic cases as well as the standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests done in a lab and that there is not enough data to prove if the measure is useful or not.

“It’s an interesting concept,” said Dr. Allison Berry, Clallam County health officer. “I understand why people want it.

“The challenge is there is not really any data that it makes any difference in the safety in the school, which is why we haven’t really adapted it here. I think it tends to be an intervention that makes people feel better, but doesn’t make anybody safer.”

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke agreed with Berry, saying that the prevention measures that the districts have been doing such as symptom screening, temperature checks and required mask wearing have been effective, and that random testing is not effective in areas that have low disease prevalence.

“It’s kind of an experimental protocol,” Locke said. “What we’ve been doing in Jefferson County I think has been pretty successful.

“I’m not recommend it at this time. If schools wanted to do it here, we wouldn’t stand in their way, but I don’t think it’s a useful tool for us right now, given the fact what we’ve been doing today has been successful. We have yet to have any outbreaks in the schools.”

The schools also have evaluation and testing protocols if a someone is symptomatic, Locke said.

The state recently expanded the number of school districts which have the option of conducting testing.

Locke elaborated that the testing is known as “surveillance testing” and they’re picking random students and staff to take a rapid test to try and capture asymptomatic cases, since 20 to 40 percent of people infected with COVID-19 don’t have symptoms.

The issue with the rapid tests is it is not as accurate as the standard PCR test, Locke said.

Both counties continue to plan and work on their various vaccination efforts, with the amount of vaccine still being the limiting factor.

Berry said as of Wednesday Clallam County is expecting 1,500 doses of Moderna’s vaccine next week. Jefferson Healthcare won’t receive word on if it will receive more of Pfizer’s vaccine for first doses until Friday, Locke said.

The same vaccine is in the shots considered to be first-dose and those called second-dose. The difference is that the state guarantees second doses for those who have had the first shot, so it is tracked.

Locke hopes the hospital will get another delivery. This week has been the first after more than a month of no first-dose deliveries.

“If if there isn’t first-dose vaccine, the system has really broken down, because the minimum vaccine Jefferson County should be receiving is what goes to the pharmacy and the hospital,” Locke said.

“Anything less than that just means that it’s a musical chair system where [the state] just keeps shifting it around in an unpredictable pattern.”

On Wednesday, Clallam County confirmed six new cases of COVID-19, and Jefferson County confirmed two new cases, according to county public health data.

Three of the new cases in Clallam are contacts of prior confirmed cases, one is connected to an out-of-county outbreak and two were still under investigation Wednesday, said Berry.

Clallam County’s test positivity — the percentage of tests returned positive — was 1.3 percent from Jan. 31 to Feb. 14, Berry said.

Jefferson County’s test positivity was 3.42 percent for Feb. 1-7.

So far this month, Clallam County has confirmed 46 cases of COVID-19, about 4.68 percent of the 982 cases confirmed since last March, according to Clallam County Public Health data.

Jefferson County has confirmed 26 cases of COVID-19, about 7.88 percent of the 330 it has confirmed since last March, according to Jefferson County Public Health data.

Twenty-two COVID-19 cases were active as of Tuesday in Clallam County. Jefferson County had seven active cases.

Both counties are in the state’s moderate-risk category with a case rate of 54 per 100,000 population during the past two weeks as of Wednesday in Clallam County and 65.83 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Saturday in Jefferson County.

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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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