Clallam County Public Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry Unthank, left, and Clallam County Undersheriff Ron Cameron provide an update on the COVID-19 outbreak Monday, March 9, 2020, at the Clallam County Courthouse. There were no confirmed cases in Clallam County as of Monday, Unthank said. (Rob Ollikainen/Peninsula Daily News)

Clallam County Public Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry Unthank, left, and Clallam County Undersheriff Ron Cameron provide an update on the COVID-19 outbreak Monday, March 9, 2020, at the Clallam County Courthouse. There were no confirmed cases in Clallam County as of Monday, Unthank said. (Rob Ollikainen/Peninsula Daily News)

Peninsula health officials still seeing testing delays

COVID-19 cases in Clallam, Jefferson remain at one

Public health officials continued to grapple with testing delays Monday as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases on the North Olympic Peninsula remained at one.

A Jefferson County man in his 60s contracted the virus during a recent visit to Kirkland, where community-level transmission of the novel coronavirus is occurring, health officials said Friday.

No additional cases have been reported on the Peninsula as of Monday afternoon.

“We have nearly completed the contact tracing on the patient from Jefferson,” said Dr. Allison Berry Unthank, Clallam County health officer, in a Monday COVID-19 status briefing.

“It looks like there were no known public exposures to this gentleman, which is good.”

Medical treatment was provided to the patient by Clallam County health care workers who wore personal protective equipment, reducing their risk of exposure, Unthank said.

Amy Yaley, Jefferson Healthcare director of marketing and communication, said Monday that 21 people have been tested at Jefferson Healthcare with results from 13 of them pending. Five patients have been seen in the hospital’s evaluation station.

The Jefferson Healthcare evaluation station is open Monday through Friday. Those who want to be seen are asked to call first on the dedicated COVID-19/Respiratory Illness Nurse Consult Line at 360-344-3094. As of Monday, that line had received 161 calls.

A Clallam County COVID-19 hotline is available at 360-417-2430.

Unthank said there continued to be backups in Seattle-area laboratories where COVID-19 test kits are being sent.

A University of Washington Medical Center lab was processing COVID-19 test kits in three days while a state Department of Health lab in Shoreline was producing results in six days, she said.

“Unfortunately, there still are not enough places to run tests and people to run them,” Unthank said.

“You guys might be seeing some news about getting more and more test kits out, which is great, unless you don’t have anywhere to run them. And that’s where we are right now.”

Meanwhile, the two students in the Chimacum School District who were held out of school based on the possibility of exposure have been cleared to return, Superintendent Rick Thompson said.

“The health department notified me that there has been no exposure to the students who left the school last week and they will return to school,” he said in a written statement Sunday.

Dr. Tom Locke, the Jefferson County health officer, reiterated that no students are being quarantined and there have been no outbreaks at any Peninsula-area schools.

In Clallam County, only hospitalized patients with severe respiratory aliments of an otherwise unknown origin are being tested.

Health officials were working to expand testing to long-term nursing facilities, Unthank said.

“We’re tying to do some work at the state level to try and see if something can be done about restricting testing for people who don’t need it, because we really need to test the people who need it the most,” Unthank said.

Olympic Medical Center can now send COVID-19 test kits to labs without phoning the county health department, Unthank said.

No tests had been generated at Forks Community Hospital, Unthank said.

OMC spokeswoman Bobby Beeman said five samples sent by OMC tested negative for COVID-19 and seven tests were pending.

“Olympic Medical Center continues to experience normal operations,” Beeman said in a Monday email.

“Our hospital census is 52, which is about average for this time of year.”

Beeman said OMC was seeing a normal increase in respiratory illness associated with influenza but “nothing out of the ordinary for this time of year.”

“Hospital staff are well and healthy,” Beeman added. “No increase in sick calls.”

All schools districts on the North Olympic Peninsula remained open Monday.

Port Angeles School District Superintendent Martin Brewer, who attended the Monday briefing, asked for guidance on school gatherings and interscholastic activities.

“We aren’t recommending closing public events, including school events,” Unthank said.

“I think it would not be unreasonable to avoid travel to places with high degrees of circulation.

“So if you have school trips planned for King or Snohomish [counties], I think it would be reasonable to cancel those,” Unthank added.

Jefferson County Administrator Philip Morley encouraged members of the public who are interested in the county commissioners’ meetings to watch the livestream online. Those who want to submit public comment can email [email protected], and Morley volunteered to read them aloud for up to three minutes.

Most of those who contract COVID-19 have mild, common, cold-like symptoms or might have no signs of illness at all, health officials said.

About 20 percent have more severe influenza-like illness with fever, cough and shortness of breath. Of those, some will develop severe illness requiring hospitalization and advanced medical care.

Those at greatest risk of developing complications are people over age 60, pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease and diabetes.

There is no antiviral medication available to treat COVID-19, although several drugs are being tried experimentally for hospitalized patients.

The virus is spread the same way as the influenza virus by what is known as “droplet transmission.”

Unthank said it is most often spread by people who are in close contact — about 6 feet from each other — for extend periods.

COVID-19 is not thought to be spread by those who are asymptomatic, she said.

“It’s OK to go to stores,” Unthank said Monday.

“It’s OK to be in the world. You are not at risk from a short interaction with someone who has COVID-19. You might hear otherwise, but that’s the truth. That’s what were getting from the WHO (World Health Organization). That’s what were getting from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).”

The Jefferson County public health department updated its figures Monday afternoon to show the one confirmed case and zero pending tests.

Locke said his biggest concern is with community-level transmission, not just with someone who traveled to either King or Snohomish counties, which he called “the epicenter of the outbreak.”

“We want to know about that so we can isolate them and quarantine their contacts,” he said. “But what we really want to know is if — and it’s not really a matter of if, it’s a matter of when — this really starts to circulate on the peninsulas.”

If that happens, Locke said the public health department may re-evaluate its recommendations for public gatherings.

“We’re going to be advising them to avoid situations where they would have an increased risk of being exposed,” he said.

“Being out and about in town, are they at risk of exposure? We don’t know yet.”

The state Department of Health said there were 136 cases of COVID-19 statewide as of Monday and 22 coronavirus deaths.

Of those, 114 cases — and 19 of the deaths — occurred in King or Snohomish counties.

“I suspect we’re going to have cases in every county in the state,” Unthank said.

“We think that these cases that we are catching are just a tiny fraction of the number of cases that we actually have.”

________

Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].

Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].

Clallam County Public Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry Unthank, right, and Clallam County Undersheriff Ron Cameron provide an update on the COVID-19 outbreak Monday, March 9, 2020, at the Clallam County Courthouse. There were no confirmed cases in Clallam County as of Monday, Unthank said. (Rob Ollikainen/Peninsula Daily News)

Clallam County Public Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry Unthank, right, and Clallam County Undersheriff Ron Cameron provide an update on the COVID-19 outbreak Monday, March 9, 2020, at the Clallam County Courthouse. There were no confirmed cases in Clallam County as of Monday, Unthank said. (Rob Ollikainen/Peninsula Daily News)

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