A Clallam County couple contracted COVID-19 after traveling out of state, bringing the total number of cases on the North Olympic Peninsula to 42, health officials said.
The couple, a man and woman in their 60s, had “relatively few contacts” after returning to Clallam County, public health officer Dr. Allison Unthank said in a Wednesday interview.
Public health officials were working to identify those who had contact with the pair. Unthank said the couple was exposed to a known COVID-19 case in another state.
“They are on home isolation, and they’re doing well,” said Unthank, who would not specify where the couple had traveled.
The two new infections raised Clallam County’s COVID-19 case total to 14. Ten of those patients have recovered, Unthank said.
Jefferson County’s number of confirmed cases remained at 28 for a sixth consecutive day, county Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said Wednesday.
“We’re hoping that this trend is real, that social distancing is working,” Locke said in a Wednesday interview.
“Really, the people of Washington have succeeded in preventing the surge, and we’re looking ahead to the next steps.”
Locke and Unthank each said more testing is needed before physical distancing measures can be phased out.
Gov. Jay Inslee issued a stay-home order for non-essential travel through May 4.
“In order to safely relax these distancing measures, we need adequate testing,” Unthank said in a daily COVID-19 briefing at the Clallam County Courthouse.
“When we see positive cases, we need to be able to catch them quickly.”
Jefferson County had been “very limited” by testing capacity but had recently acquired more specimen collection kits, Locke said.
“We really need to develop a system where we can do very rapid testing and respond to test results,” Locke said.
“It’s going to require a new level of collaboration between public health and the heath care system.”
Public health officials in both counties were working with primary care clinics and hospitals on how to expand testing and to set up infrastructure to trace contacts, isolate and quarantine.
Unthank said COVID-19 testing likely would be offered to essential workers who show the respiratory and fever symptoms of COVID-19 within a week.
She said the goal is to have the ability to test anyone who is sick.
“That’s what we need in place in order to safely relax those (physical distancing) measures,” Unthank said.
Clallam County had tested 765 patients for COVID-19 and had 42 pending samples as of Wednesday.
“Even with those two new cases, our percent positive rate is still less than 2 percent, so we’re still doing really quite well as far as that bending the curve and keeping our total number of cases low,” Unthank said.
“I think our numbers are pretty good for a 75,000 population,” Clallam County Undersheriff and Emergency Management Director Ron Cameron added.
“My heart goes out to people who have this and have been affected, but still, those numbers are pretty good.”
Only 10 samples collected in Jefferson County remained to be tested as of Wednesday, Locke said.
“We really think that we are going to be able to start relaxing some of the distancing measures in the next few weeks, and so that’s really promising,” Unthank said.
“What we need from our folks, from our population, is to continue social distancing right now, and to continue until we have that (infrastructure) in place, and then to be responsible about that relaxation of social distancing.
“I know it’s hard, and I know it will be tempting to just go back to the way things were, but we can’t do that because that would be very, very dangerous,” Unthank added.
“That would be very unsafe, and we’ll be right back where we were going to be a month ago.”
Local health departments can impose more restrictive stay-home measures than the governor but cannot override Inslee’s order, Unthank said.
“We are working with our other county partners and with the (state) Secretary of Health, who also works very closely with the governor, to plan for how to do that phase-out, and we really want to do it together as a state,” Unthank said.
“We’re going to be working with the governor’s office on how to get this done. We have been putting in our input, and we’ll continue to do that to try to make sure that our rural counties are represented in that decision making.”
Unthank said she was “incredibly proud” of those who have practiced physical distancing.
“It’s caused a lot of strife, and we know that, but we’ve really done a good job of it,” Unthank said.
“And so I’m really encouraging people to continue it until the right time.
“It’s close. We’re almost there. Don’t give up. And then we can start phasing it out in a responsible way in Clallam County.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].