Peninsula free of new COVID-19 cases for five days

Smoke levels continue to cause concern

The North Olympic Peninsula had five consecutive days without a confirmed new case of COVID-19 as of Wednesday.

Clallam County is in the state’s moderate-risk category for COVID-19 transmission with 29 cases per 100,000 population for the past two weeks, while Jefferson County is in the low-risk category at 9.4 cases per 100,000.

Clallam County has had no new infections for five days, holding at 221 cases since March, with 207 recovered and one death, Clallam County Public Health data said.

Jefferson County has had no new cases for nine days, holding at 70 infections since March, with 56 recovered and no deaths, Jefferson County Public Health data said.

One man in his 30s is currently hospitalized in Clallam County and “was otherwise healthy before this,” said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer, on Wednesday. “He was admitted for respiratory failure and needed significant respiratory support but is improving today.”

Unthank and Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer, are continuing to monitor the high levels of smoke from wildfires being blown in from other parts of the state.

Both Port Angeles and Port Townsend peaked in the “unhealthy for sensitive groups” air quality category Wednesday, which is an improvement from the “very unhealthy” and “unhealthy” categories that Peninsula was in Tuesday, according to a state air monitoring network.

Smoke inhalation can make people more susceptible to such respiratory diseases as COVID-19, and it can increase transmission rates by causing people to cough, as well as posing other risks to people with underlying health conditions, both Unthank and Locke said.

“Wildfire smoke is really an issue, especially for people with respiratory diseases,” Locke said. “High levels of smoke in the air can be a real problem, so people really need to pay attention to the air quality.

“Of course, people also need to be very careful in terms of fire risk,” he added.

“We’re in a very dangerous period right now where essentially all forms of outdoor fires are banned,” Locke continued.

“Until the rains come, we think we’re in an unusually dangerous place along the whole West Coast.

“We’re really urging people to be careful of that and just really mindful of the air quality,” he said. “And if it’s really bad, it’s kind of obvious to people, because they can see it when they look outside.”

Unthank and Clallam County Public Health are working on outreach measures to the West End to help educate people and prevent possible outbreaks.

“We’re looking at a lot of different options to see how we can tailor our message best for the needs of the West End,” Unthank said.

“What we’re learning as we approach COVID-19 in our county is that the exposures and risks are different in different parts of our county.

“On the east end, when we do have [cases], it’s more among people who are traveling out of county. West End, we’re seeing kind of a lot of different things playing in to put folks at risk,” she continued.

“We’re definitely seeing folks who aren’t still quite on board with COVID-19 as serious and real, and seeing that playing out, and we’re also seeing a lot of people who are struggling with poverty and access to health care before the pandemic. So, might not be able to access testing or know that it’s available.”

One of the outreach strategies has been bringing testing into other areas that may need it, and Unthank said testing is free for those with symptoms or were close contacts of a confirmed case.

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached by email at zjablonski@peninsuladailynews.com or by phone at 360-385-2335, ext. 5.

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