(Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News )

(Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News )

Virus accelerates on Peninsula

Travel, large gatherings unsafe

Nineteen new COVID-19 cases were confirmed on the North Olympic Peninsula on Thursday through Saturday, with more expected, as the state reported on Friday a new record of 2,147 in new cases and health officers issued new calls for caution, especially during the holidays.

Dr. Allison Berry Unthank, Clallam County public health officer, speaks during Friday’s COVID-19 briefing at the county courthouse in Port Angeles. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Dr. Allison Berry Unthank, Clallam County public health officer, speaks during Friday’s COVID-19 briefing at the county courthouse in Port Angeles. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Clallam County’s second death related to COVID-19, a Sequim woman in her 80s who had been hospitalized for some time and died at Olympic Medical Center, was reported to the health department late Thursday.

Dr. Allison Unthank, county health officer, was not aware of any underlying health condition but said her age was a factor.

In addition, Olympic Medical Center announced Saturday that a third employee had tested positive for COVID-19 last week.

(Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News )

(Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News )

(Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News )

(Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News )

Clallam County reported four new positives on Friday and five more on Saturday, giving the county 323 cases since March and 33 active cases. The infection rate Saturday is 45 per 100,000 over the past two weeks, placing the county in the moderate-risk category.

(Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News )

(Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News )

Jefferson County saw five new cases Thursday — three after the Peninsula Daily News deadline for Friday’s edition — and five on Friday. Jefferson County has had 112 confirmed cases since March, with 23 over the past two weeks.

No more cases were confirmed Saturday, but Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said there were “a lot of pending tests” still out and that he anticipates more positives.

The listed infection rate for Jefferson is 34 per 100,000, but Locke said the rate as of Saturday was probably getting close to 75 per 100,000 over the past two weeks, which would put Jefferson in the high-risk category.

“We can change this. We can turn it around,” Locke said.

It will not be up to government to turn it around, Locke added; it will be up to everyone doing their part to take personal precautions to avoid spreading the virus.

“This is about personal choices and behavior,” Locke said.

“This is not about government control.”

Local residents must double down on COVID-19 precautions such as wearing face masks, not traveling, social distancing and keeping gatherings small, Unthank said.

“We are in a position to turn things around but we need to make some rapid changes. It would be quite easy for this to get out of control” locally, Unthank said.

An OMC press release said that the county is investigating the possibility that two of the three cases at the hospital are connected.

“We are very proud to share that employees are following [personal protection equipment] guidelines and physical standards, making the risk of spread very low,” said Jennifer Burkhardt, chief human resources officer for the hospital. “We are working closely with the county to thoroughly investigate.”

Locke said a big part of his Monday presentation to Jefferson County commissioners will be about the rapid spread of the virus and the work the county is doing to track contacts of the 10 latest case.

Unthank noted that nearby counties such as Kitsap, King and Pierce are seeing dramatic rises in cases. She pointed out that Gov. Jay Inslee recently proclaimed that people traveling out of their communities must go into a 14-day quarantine upon their return.

“I support this,” Unthank said.

She also said people should avoid plane travel if they can, asking residents not to travel during the holiday season.

Thanksgiving

Locke said that people shouldn’t travel for Thanksgiving and should avoid having guests from out of the county or the state, keeping Thanksgiving gatherings tied to households.

“It’s not safe having guests,” Locke said.

”We realize this is a big sacrifice for a lot of people, but this is not a normal Thanksgiving with an out-of-control coronavirus.”

Said Unthank: “We are going to do everything we can. We need all of the community to take this seriously.

“We need everyone to double down on efforts to prevent a significant rise here because we cannot tolerate much of a rise where we are.”

Unthank said that with the rapid rise of the infection rate statewide, there is a possibility of new restrictions coming down from the state similar to what Inslee and the state Department of Health implemented this spring.

“At the state level, it’s something we should prepare for,” she said.

Asked about the new Pfizer vaccine that was possibly to be available for frontline health care workers as early as December and to members of the public early next year, Unthank predicted challenges for rural counties because the vaccine has to be stored at -80 degrees Fahrenheit. She said this storage will need to involve using dry ice.

“There are going to be significant logistical hurdles,” she said. “We’re not the only rural area that will struggle with it.”

Unthank expressed optimism Friday that the county was going to be able to get through latest COVID-19 crisis.

“We have seen rapid rises before and gotten through it. We can do it again,” she said.

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Sports Editor Pierre LaBossiere can be reached at [email protected]

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