Peninsula man in 80s catches COVID-19

Authorities tell of jail measures, face masks

The North Olympic Peninsula has its first case of a person 80 or older confirmed as having been infected with COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory virus.

The Jefferson County man, who is in the age group most at risk for serious complications from the disease, is recuperating at home, said Dr. Tom Locke, county health officer.

The man is Jefferson County’s 19th confirmed case. He was infected via community transmission, meaning the origin is not from outside the county.

Eight have been confirmed in Clallam County.

The Clallam County jail population continues to shrink below a target number of inmates in response to social-distancing cautionary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Sheriff Bill Benedict said Thursday.

Locke also said Thursday that Jefferson County Jail supervisors are practicing similar inmate-reduction measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Locke and Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry Unthank have said the pandemic could last on the North Olympic Peninsula for two to three months, predicting it could peak in two to four weeks.

Efforts are being undertaken at the county jails to enforce the social distancing standard of 6 feet or more separation between people to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Transmission

The virus is commonly transmitted by droplets expelled by coughing, sneezing, talking or breathing. The Centers for Disease Control added the talking and breathing criteria Thursday.

The Clallam County jail census stood at 54 Thursday, well under Benedict’s March 15 target of 70-80 in the jail, which has a capacity of 120.

Then it stood at 108, when Benedict said he would accept only people arrested for violent crimes and release with court summonses for misdemeanors such as theft, shoplifting and trespassing.

He said Wednesday that repeat offenders for nonviolent crimes such as trespassing also might be jailed.

Benedict also said female jail inmate tested negative for the virus who was arrested March 18, had cold symptoms, and said her son had been to China, until recently the worldwide epicenter of the highly contagious virus.

“Nobody with any kind of symptoms is in the jail right now,” he said.

He said the half-dozen inmates in the jail on homicide charges and those charged with sex crimes will not be released.

Benedict said the jail population could go down as low as 49 “until the end of this crisis.”

As of Thursday in Jefferson County, 487 residents had tested negative for the virus, with 39 test results pending and the 19 positive results, including 10 in the high-risk 60-and-older category.

As of Thursday in Clallam County, 365 residents tested negative and 69 tests were pending, with the eight total cases unchanged from Wednesday.

Undersheriff Ron Cameron said Thursday at the daily COVID-19 briefing that Clallam County is unlikely to obtain anytime soon the rapid-result test kits that the Food and Drug Administration approved this week.

“That is not in the cards,” he said.

Face masks

The Centers for Disease Control continued to review if the general public should wear face masks, but health officials continue to monitor agency guidelines, Cameron said.

Locke said if the public does wear face masks in public, they should wear cloth and home-made masks, not the manufactured surgical masks that are in short supply and are so essential to the work of health care workers and first responders.

Benefits to people wearing masks while in public include reducing the spread of the virus by people who have the infection but don’t know about it and have not developed symptoms, Locke said.

People can have the infection at least two days before they develop symptoms, Locke said.

“This is spreading faster than what you would expect just from people who have symptoms who now are ill.”

Locke said the new CDC standards on talking and breathing near someone are in line with knowledge among health officials that, for example, people speaking in a loud voice or singing also can spread droplets, but not nearly at the same volume as someone coughing or sneezing.

“It’s something that’s been known, but they are emphasizing it because of the new attention to asymptomatic spread.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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