Clallam County has surpassed Jefferson County in confirmed COVID-19 cases with two more positive tests reported Tuesday, health officials said.
Clallam County had 33 confirmed COVID-19 cases while Jefferson County’s total remained at 32.
A woman in her 50s was exposed to the novel coronavirus by a member of her household, and a man in his 20s contracted COVID-19 outside of the county, Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer, said.
“We have had six cases in the last week alone,” Unthank told the Clallam County Board of Health on Tuesday.
“Three of those have been cases of community transmission, which is new for us.”
Previously, most of the Clallam County patients who tested positive for COVID-19 had contracted the virus in other communities like Seattle.
“Our recent cases in the last week, by and large, have been contracted in the county,” Unthank told the health board.
“We are worried that these cases really represent more of a tip of an iceberg of a lot more cases in the community that we aren’t aware of.”
Clallam and Jefferson counties each are in Phase 2 of the state’s four-phase reopening plan.
Unthank has recommended that Clallam County remain in Phase 2.
Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer, has recommended that Jefferson County move into the third phase of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start” plan.
A Phase 3 reopening would allow larger public gatherings and more business to reopen with continued physical distancing measures.
“There are certainly risks involved, and it’s important for people to know that,” Locke said of a Phase 3 reopening.
“With any kind of step forward and increased openings and increased crowd sizes, the risks go up, but I think that it’s a challenge we need to face.
“Staying in permanent lockdown is really not an option, and people have to learn to navigate in this new pandemic world because we’re going to be here for a year or a longer,” Locke added.
“I’d further say, in Jefferson County, we still have a long ways to go.”
Jefferson County health officials had received reports of people not wearing masks indoors and ignoring physical distancing requirements, Locke said.
“Whereas I recommend taking this step forward, it’s only going to be successful if there’s broad community willingness to do the things that are necessary to make it successful,” Locke said in a telephone interview.
“We can tell people what to do, but we can’t really force them to do it. They have to choose to do it.”
No coronovirus deaths have been reported on the North Olympic Peninsula.
Clallam County health officials had performed 3,557 COVID-19 tests with 71 tests pending Tuesday. Twenty-six of Clallam County’s 33 patients with COVID-19 had recovered.
Jefferson County health care providers had tested 2,473 patients with 63 tests pending Tuesday. Thirty of Jefferson County’s 32 cases had recovered.
“By and large, Clallam County had been doing really quite well from a COVID-19 standpoint,” Unthank said.
“In the last week, we have seen a change. We have seen an escalation in cases.”
Clallam County previously had a COVID-19 positive rate of less than 1 percent.
More recently, health care workers began testing asymptomatic patients prior to surgeries and other medical procedures.
“If you remove the pre-procedural testing and only include the testing of symptomatic people, our positive rate has risen to about 2.7 percent in the last week,” Unthank said.
“The other concerning factor in our recent cases is that many of them have had quite a few contacts,” Unthank added.
The Jefferson County Board of Health will discuss Locke’s recommended Phase 3 variance request at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.
“We’re also going to have an agenda item on the issue of racial justice and how that relates to public health,” Locke said.
The meeting can be viewed at www.co.jefferson.wa.us.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].