The North Olympic Peninsula was gearing up to increase testing of respiratory patients for COVID-19 on Thursday while the number of confirmed cases remained at 42.
Jefferson County has started testing all respiratory patients this week, said Dr. Tom Locke, county health officer.
That is expected to begin next week in Clallam County, said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.
“Anyone with a fever or cough is being tested,” Unthank said. “We anticipate that expansion will happen next week.
“Right now it’s really a lot of preparing … making sure we’re ready [for things to reopen] and assisting potential at-risk places.”
Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-home order is likely to be extended past the May 4 date he had set, and reopening the state will be gradual rather than all at once, the governor has said.
About a dozen people — some masked, some not — gathered at Veterans Park in Port Angeles on Thursday afternoon to protest Inslee’s order.
Unthank said she had not heard about the protest but, in general, she advises against gathering in groups.
“Any large group poses a risk for spreading infection,” she said.
Officials are expecting an uptick in cases once reopening begins. They said increased testing, made possible by recent delivery of additional test kits, will be vital to keeping cases manageable since they will be more likely to catch cases and isolate the patients to limit the potential spread and subsequent outbreaks.
“These sort of extreme community mitigation measures — such as the stay-at-home order — work, and it’s more effective in rural areas verses urban ones,” Locke said.
“We’ve seen a real drop-off in respiratory patients in general.”
Jefferson County reached a key milestone with no new confirmed cases of COVID-19 for two weeks, and Clallam County has not had a new case for eight days as of Thursday.
Of the 42 confirmed cases on the Peninsula, 14 are from Clallam County and 28 are from Jefferson County.
Of those cases, 35 patients have recovered.
The state Department of Health has determined that: “people are considered recovered at 28 days from the onset of symptoms if they’re alive and not hospitalized,” according to Jefferson County Public Health.
There have been no deaths from COVID-19 on the Peninsula, officials said.
Jefferson County has a positive case rate of about 3.8 percent out of the 746 tests returned, with 14 results still pending, and Clallam County has a positive case rate of about 1.5 percent of 960 tests returned, with 15 still pending, officials said.
Both counties are well below the state rate for positive cases of 8.4 percent, according to the state Department of Health website, www.doh.wa.gov.
But that doesn’t mean the Peninsula is in the clear, health officials said.
“We don’t have an abundance of supplies, but I feel we have an adequate amount to increase testing,” Locke said. “The confirmed cases are just the tip of the iceberg. The iceberg itself is much larger.
“We certainly believe we will [find more positives] as we increase testing and look deeper into the community to find them.”
If things open too quickly, cases could skyrocket and then set back the work that social distancing and community mitigation measures have done to limit the spread of the virus back to the beginning of the cases in March, Locke said.
So far there have been no confirmed cases at any of the long-term senior care facilities on the Peninsula, Unthank and Locke said.
Another test in the works is for antibodies that are generated when a person has had COVID-19. Labs such as those at the University of Washington have begun testing, which helps model just how many people may have contracted the virus but may have had mild symptoms or had been asymptomatic, Locke said.
Testing kits now being manufactured for the general public are not reliable, Locke said.
Officials are learning more about COVID-19 daily, and for things like the antibody testing, it is still unknown what it means to be immune to the virus — such as length of time they’re immune or if they even are immune — but Locke said he hopes that will become more clear in the coming weeks.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.