Peninsula COVID-19 cases climb to 10

Equipment, tests in short supply

PORT ANGELES — Four new cases of the COVID-19 virus were confirmed in Clallam and Jefferson counties Saturday.

The positive test results bring the total number of confirmed cases as of Saturday up to 10 on the North Olympic Peninsula, with six in Jefferson County and four in Clallam County.

While confirmed cases begin to creep up on the Peninsula, public health officers predict that personal protection equipment for health care professionals will run out in a month. Tests also are in short supply.

Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer, said one of the new patients in Clallam County is a woman in her 40s and the other is a woman in her 60s. One patient was exposed to another patient who had been previously diagnosed. Another woman was exposed to the virus in King County.

Neither woman is hospitalized.

“They are both home and doing well in isolation,” Unthank said Saturday. She also said one of the previous patients has completely recovered from the virus.

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said the two new cases are both women, one in her 70s and another in her 20s. One happened from out-of-county contact and the other was a local transmission.

Neither of the Jefferson County women are hospitalized.

Locke warned both of the new cases in Jefferson County were discovered from tests taken a week ago. Jefferson County has 223 tests pending, so he expects numbers to start rising, especially of cases being locally transmitted.

“We anticipated this. It’s moving through the community. We’re in the early stages of in-county transmission. Expect more and more of these cases,” Locke said.

There are no updates on the weekend on the total number of COVID-19 tests that have been done.

Investigation of contacts continues.

Health officials in both counties do not release information about the COVID-19 patients’ hometowns or other information about their identities.

As of Friday morning, 146 COVID-19 tests had been conducted in Clallam County, with 58 negative and 86 pending.

In Jefferson County, 332 residents had been tested, with 105 negative results and 223 pending.

A patient who was isolated for 12 hours last week at the Clallam County jail included a woman who was arrested Wednesday for investigation of driving under the influence and possession of a controlled substance and who showed cold symptoms, Chief Corrections Deputy Wendy Peterson said Friday.

The woman said her son had recently been to China, Peterson said.

The woman, who was cleared for incarceration at Olympic Medical Center before being returned to the jail, was examined by Unthank, who tested her for the virus and ordered her to be in quarantine at her home while awaiting the test results, Peterson said.

The woman has an April 30 court appearance on the charges.

An officer said in an email Thursday that the woman’s statement that her son had been in China was “potentially false,” Peterson said.

Not enough equipment

Locke and Unthank said that health care personnel lack sufficient personal protection equipment such as surgical masks.

“Right now, we have enough masks to get us through probably the next month,” Unthank said, but “we anticipate this is going to last about two to three months.

“We are on track to run out of personal protection equipment in about a month.”

Unthank said that state officials had told her that it is out of personal protection equipment.

Locke said Jefferson County faces the same monthlong limitation on personal protection equipment.

Gov. Jay Inslee said he expected that by this weekend, the state could receive 560,000 surgical masks, 12 million disposable gloves, 650,000 disposable gowns, 1.6 million N95 respirators and 74,000 canisters of disinfectant wipes from the federal stockpile.

It was unclear which counties would receive the supplies.

King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, where scores of coronavirus cases have been reported, were the destination earmarked by the federal government of 8,000 test kits and personal protection equipment that the state received last week from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Anyone who has masks to donate in Clallam County, or who can volunteer as health care providers and in other less skilled tasks such as answering the phone and making masks are asked to call the county hot line number at 360-417-2430.

Construction workers, janitors, dentists, nursing students and others have donated masks.

“Honestly, without them, we wouldn’t have been able to make it this far,” Unthank said.

The state Department of Corrections announced Saturday that inmates at Clallam Bay Corrections Center and at other prison will begin making protective gowns in response to a nationwide shortage. Eventually 12 Corrections staff and 160 incarcerated workers are expected to make up to 6,000 gowns per day, the department said.

Hospital patients, first responders and health care workers in both counties are the only people being tested for the coronovirus while a nationwide shortage of test kits continues, Unthank and Locke said.

That makes it all the more important that residents of all ages practice social distancing of 6 feet or more in public and that those vulnerable to the coronavirus, such as pregnant women, the elderly over 60 and those with serious underlying conditions, stay indoors as much as possible and avoid gatherings of 50 or more, they said.

Anyone with cold or flu symptoms should not go to work. They should stay home for 72 hours after symptoms go away, Unthank said.

Asymptomatic transmission is rare, as the virus is transmitted by droplet expelled by coughing and sneezing at a distance of 6 feet for 15 minutes or more, she said.

It also can be spread by being transmitted from solid surfaces such as steel and plastic that people touch before touching their faces.

“We anticipate that the vast majority of people who get COVID-19 will get better,” Unthank said, estimating that 20 percent of patients will need clinical care, with mortality driven by people in their 80s.

“We’re kind of all in this together,” Unthank said.

Testing

Inslee on Friday pointed to the 7 percent of 20,742 state residents — in a population of 7.5 million — who have tested positive for the virus, saying the state had made “some progress” in combating the virus.

Locke said the statistic is misleading.

Far more testing is needed, on a scale similar to South Korea, which like China employed an enveloping program of tracing, testing and quarantining to quell the virus, he said.

“If we had 100,000 tests, it might be close to statistical evidence of prevalence,” Locke said, adding that most testing is occurring in the I-5 corridor.

He noted an extreme shortage of swabs that are used to take specimens.

“We have extreme limitations in testing compared to places like South Korea.”

Business owners in downtown Port Townsend have described the commercial district “as kind of a ghost town” with restaurants, bars and entertainment venues closed under Inslee’s two-week executive order, Locke said.

Black Ball Ferry Line will furlough 61 employees when the company suspends service to Victoria from March 30 to April 30, when a ban on non-essential traffic across the international border with Canada takes effect, company co-owner Ryan Malane said Friday.

“We are intending to bring everybody back,”

But there are no guarantees service will start up again as planned.

“It all depends on the status of the border and where we are in a few weeks,” he said.

Ferry ridership has been buoyed by Canadians “snow birds” returning home in time for the partial border shutdown, Malane added.

Those Canadians also have been boosting business at the Red Lion Hotel a block away, but the border restrictions are not far off, General manager Donya Alward said Friday.

She said the staff of 50-60 employees at the largest lodging establishment in Clallam and Jefferson counties has been cut to 12, including six salaried workers who are doing everything from washing windows to changing beds.

Alward, who was staffing the hotel’s main operator extension Friday, said the furloughed workers are on standby status.

As of Friday morning the 187-room hotel was at 36 percent occupancy month to date.

‘We’ve had an extreme amount of cancellations,” Alward said.

“We are losing business because people are not traveling.”

Locke said people can go to https://tinyurl.com/JeffCoHealth to get updates on COVID-19 tests. The website for Clallam County is http://www.clallam.net/coronavirus/index.html but it is not updated on the weekends.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at [email protected].

Sports Editor Pierre LaBossiere can be reached at [email protected].

Jefferson County Reporter Zach Jablonski also contributed to this story.

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