Peninsula health officials concerned about Labor Day weekend

Four new COVID-19 cases found in Clallam County

Clallam County added four new COVID-19 cases to its total on Thursday, while Jefferson County held steady with no new cases for the fourth day in a row.

County health officers are concerned about the upcoming holiday weekend, as previous gatherings during holidays such as the Fourth of July have led to spikes of COVID-19 cases on the North Olympic Peninsula.

Clallam’s new cases raise its total to 217 since March, with 18 cases currently active, and a current new case rate of 58 per 100,000 for the past two weeks, said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.

Jefferson County remained at 70 cases since March on Thursday, with 15 cases currently active, and, as of Monday, had a case rate of 28 per 100,000, said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.

Both counties are in the state’s moderate-risk category.

Three of the newest cases in Clallam County are household contacts of prior cases and were already in quarantine. The fourth was being investigated Thursday afternoon, Unthank said.

Both Unthank and Locke are urging residents to avoid large gatherings during this Labor Day weekend, but if people do gather, to keep them small and outdoors with no more than five people outside of household members, with mask wearing and social distancing.

“I’m concerned we’re going to have a repeat with the Fourth of July,” Locke said. “We have a lot of evidence that people let down their guard and hosted large parties and gatherings without the necessary masking and distancing.

“I’m strongly urging people to follow all the necessary COVID-19 guidelines, which I’m sure people are very familiar with at this point.”

Uthank said: “Labor Day is a time when folks will travel to gather, and having visitors from other parts of the state, from out of state, can be a relatively risk activity, but even gathering with the folks within our county is also risky,” she said.

“I would recommend avoiding gathering, but if you must gather, keep it small and outside … if we can stay outside and distanced and wear our masks, that will go a really long way to keep us safe.”

In-person school has resumed in Brinnon this week, and Port Townsend and Chimacum districts will start next week.

Locke said people following restrictions this weekend will be key to keeping schools open.

“We’re one of the very few counties who are attempting to do this … so the worst thing that can happen is if people let down their guard during Labor Day and we get a spike in COVID-19 cases right as schools are trying to reopen,” he said.

Clallam County districts and the Quilcene School District in Jefferson County are starting online, and keeping case numbers low is important for students to be able to return to the classroom, Unthank said.

“There’s a trade-off of sacrifices,” she said. “One way or another, this virus will get sacrifices from us. If we want these really critical things back, like kids in school, critical businesses open, we have to be willing to sacrifice other things.

“Sacrificing parties, sacrificing going out to the bars — if we all do that, then we can really increase the likelihood of getting kids back in schools.”

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has notified officials to be prepared for widespread COVID-19 vaccine distribution on Nov. 1, both health officers do not believe a vaccine will be available by then. Either a vaccine won’t be ready or it would not have been produced in large enough quantities by that date, they expect, saying widespread vaccination availability won’t be until 2021.

However, the health officers are working with the state on plans for the time when a vaccine is ready.

“We’re in favor of preparing for vaccination when it comes down, but Nov. 1 seems to be very unrealistic,” Locke said.

“I’m certainly opposed to any vaccine being released before they’re fully tested, or based on any political motivation,” he added.

“It certainly seems like the way the CDC is announcing this suggests that there’s political motivation behind it, but we don’t know that for sure.

“Administering the vaccine will be a very complicated endeavor, and the best estimates I have is that significant supplies of vaccine will not be available until 2021.”

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 360-385-2335, ext. 5.

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