Peninsula COVID-19 cases ‘moving in right direction’

Clallam reports one new case Wednesday, Jefferson zero

One new case of COVID-19 was reported on the North Olympic Peninsula on Wednesday, representing a continued abatement in coronavirus activity in recent days.

After a two-day pause with no new cases, Clallam County added one case Wednesday for a total of 213 since March.

“I think we are really moving in the right direction,” Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank said Wednesday.

Jefferson County had no new cases Wednesday. It has had 70 since March.

“It does look like the recent weeks have been a wake-up call for some folks,” Unthank said, referring to August outbreaks at parties and a Port Angeles bar.

“I think a lot of our citizens are really starting to buckle down and follow the guidelines closely, which is very promising.”

Health officials continue to stress physical distancing, mask wearing and avoiding large gatherings, especially on national holidays like Labor Day.

Gatherings on Memorial Day weekend and Fourth of July were blamed for COVID-19 outbreaks around the state.

Clallam County’s two-week infection rate was 55 per 100,000 population as of Wednesday, near the middle of the 25- to 75-per-100,000 moderate-risk range.

Jefferson County’s infection rate remained at 28 cases per 100,000 Wednesday, Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said.

Jefferson County school districts are reopening this week and next week with a blend of in-person and remote learning.

Clallam County schools will offer only remote learning until the county’s infection rate remains below 75 per 100,000 for four weeks.

Jefferson County public health and school officials were finalizing protocols for the evaluation and rapid testing of students with mild symptoms of COVID-19, Locke said.

“Certainly if kids are sick enough to be seen by a health care practitioner, we can accommodate that, but some of them will have very mild symptoms, and we’re going to want to test them for COVID-19,” Locke said.

Students who test negative for COVID-19 can return to class three days after their symptoms resolve, Locke said.

“We’re developing a system where we can kind of collect these specimens around the county, so not just in Port Townsend, but South County as well,” Locke said.

“That’s something we’re working on just to standardize how we do it, because that will help promote consistency and effectiveness.”

Locke also planned to meet Wednesday with a Jefferson County Emergency Management policy council to discuss the multi-jurisdictional enforcement of COVID-19 regulations.

“We’re trying to do it as much as possible in an educational way, but there are penalties for people who just plain refuse to follow the state and local guidelines,” Locke said.

“So far, I think we’re getting really good cooperation among businesses and others.”

Locke and Unthank have each issued orders requiring food service establishments to abide by state COVID-19 orders or risk losing their operating permit.

“We have had to do some outreach to businesses, but so far we’ve been able to get folks on board with voluntary compliance,” Unthank said.

Clallam County health officials were shoring up a quarantine support system that will be deployed during large outbreaks should they occur.

“We’re also working on some outreach to make sure all parts of our county are getting access to good information of how to stay safe and access to testing,” Unthank said.

“One of the places were focusing on right now is making sure the West End has adequate access to testing and information for how to stay safe.”

Locke, a former Clallam County health officer, said the recent reduction in COVID-19 cases can be attributed to the work of the neighboring health department and Clallam County residents.

“If this trend holds, it means that people more and more are getting the message, and they’re masking and distancing and forgoing large gatherings,” Locke said.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].

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