PORT TOWNSEND — Four new cases of the COVID-19 virus were confirmed in Jefferson and Clallam counties Saturday, including the first two known to be contracted through community transmission.
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.
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 that 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.
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.
There are no updates on the weekend on the total number of COVID-19 tests that have been done.
As cases increase, Jefferson County officials are trying to offset the economic impact of measures put in place to slow the spread of the virus with a loan program and other measures.
The Port Townsend City Council and the Jefferson County commissioners met jointly Thursday evening to discuss the impacts COVID-19 has had on the community.
The Jefferson County Board of Health also met Thursday and Locke spoke at both.
In Jefferson County, 332 residents had been tested, with 105 negative results and 223 pending.
In Clallam County, 146 COVID-19 tests had been conducted, with 58 negative and 86 pending.
“This is a remarkable snapshot of what is going on,” said Locke at Thursday’s joint meeting. “All of the people we’ve tested are sick —all of them have fevers and respiratory symptoms” so those who test negative are “sick from something other than COVID-19.
“Part of the challenge of this, we’re still in flu season … I also have to say that this level of testing right now is not sustainable.”
The limiting factor of testing is a global shortage of the testing plastic and Dacron swabs and the test tubes the tests are transported in, Locke said.
“This is something no one could imagine we would have a shortage of,” he said.
Locke reiterated that the drastic measures the state and federal government have taken, such as closing bars and entertainment venues, limiting restaurants to take-out only, encouraging social distancing, are to “flatten the curve,” meaning lower the peak amount of cases as much as possible, so that the medical system’s capacity won’t be overrun and can take care of the critical cases.
“We have to prevent this surge in cases,” Locke said. “Until we have a vaccine or effective anti-viral medications, this infection is going to spread through the population.
“Our only choices are if it spreads rapidly or if it spreads slowly. And if it spreads slowly, we can keep the number of people who need hospital care within the capacity of our system to deliver it,” he continued.
“We need to make an all-out effort to stop transmission right now, before we get to the point of what we call exponential spread.”
Health officials in both counties do not release information about where COVID-19 patients live or other information about their identities.
Not enough equipment
Both 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 has 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.
With the focus on King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, where scores of coronavirus cases have been reported, it was unclear which other counties would receive those supplies.
Those three counties 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.
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.
Loans for businesses
To assist with businesses struggling due to the impacts of COVID-19, the Local Investing Opportunities Network (LION) has established a new loan program for Jefferson County businesses and nonprofits needing funding to deal with the COVID-19 emergency.
The loan application and instructions are downloadable from the the LION website at L2020.org/lion. A fast-track process has been established to handle the applications, LION officials said.
LION is a network that connects business and nonprofits seeking financing with over 60 local investors. Since 2006 LION members have invested in over 75 Jefferson County businesses and nonprofits.
The Department of Emergency Management has partnered with Local 20/20, which compiled a site listing links and information regarding health, food, donations and restaurants in Jefferson County at https://l2020.org/covid-19/.
The Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce has closed the visitors center and the chamber facility to the public. It has cut its on-site staff. Some remote staffing available to members, visitors and guests via phone 360-385-7869 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
“We will soon launch several new initiatives including the virtual ‘Chamber Café’ with guest presenters and the opportunity to gather in virtual meetings to acquire additional information directory from resources that can assist you and your business with your present challenges and in a longer-term recovery effort,” said Arlene Adams, chamber president.
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.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sports Editor Pierre LaBossiere can be reached at email@example.com.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb also contributed to this story.