Health officials on the North Olympic Peninsula are ramping up testing for the new coronavirus in Clallam and Jefferson counties as the state increases its lab capabilities and more test kits are being produced.
Dr. Allison Unthank, the Clallam County health officer, also said cloth masks continue to be important.
While they are not available to the general public at the county’s Emergency Operations Center, there are some supplies there for health care providers, first responders and people who work in nursing homes.
Increased testing is seen as the immediate need before the economy can begin to reopen, health officials have said.
“I’m recommending testing for anyone with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, regardless of where you live or what you do,” Unthank said during a daily briefing Monday. “If you have cough, fever, shortness of breath, cold-like symptoms or flu-like symptoms, we recommend you get tested.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded the guidelines this week for possible symptoms of COVID-19.
“If you have chills, body aches, sore throat, new headache that doesn’t make sense … all of those are reasons to get tested,” Unthank said.
Clallam County reported two new cases this weekend from a couple believed to have contracted the virus from outside the county. That brought the total to 16, and 11 of those patients are considered to be recovered, Unthank said.
Meanwhile, Jefferson County has held steady with 28 confirmed cases for the past 19 days, and 24 of them have recovered, said Dr. Tom Locke, the county health officer.
As of Monday, 790 people have been tested with a total confirmed rate of about 3.6 percent, according to Jefferson County Public Health. Three tests are pending, the agency said.
In Clallam County, Unthank reported there have been 1,077 total tests, and 20 are pending.
The tests in Clallam County are mostly occurring through primary care clinics, Unthank said, adding the county is working with clinics to help them prepare as they scale up their testing.
More cases are expected to be confirmed when restrictions are lifted, likely sometime next month.
Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday announced relaxed rules on some outdoor recreational activities outside of his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order that runs through May 4. Those rules would permit certain activities beginning May 5.
Unthank said the county is working on a solution to have tests available for people who don’t have a primary care provider. She added there have been fewer tests lately because fewer people are leaving their homes and developing symptoms of any kind of illness.
So far, COVID-19 has had a greater effect on densely populated areas than in more rural ones, Locke said.
“Here in Washington state, epidemiologically, the curve has definitely flattened and starting to drop, but dropping very slowly,” he said. “The intensity of the spread and the severity of the illness is really related strongly to population density.”
Officials are analyzing how to return to public life and starting to reopen the economy, Locke said.
“We know we have to get back to that as soon as possible,” he said. “We’re now up to the point that we can do 20,000 tests a day in Washington state. That’s our lab capacity.
“It’s predicted that, within two weeks, we’ll be up to 30,000 tests a day, and that’s kind of getting close to what we need.
“That would be 100 tests or more a day in Jefferson County, which is a good capacity to have.”
The first sector to reopen included outdoor residential construction projects, which Inslee allowed to resume on Friday.
The projects must have been already started, Linda Paralez, the Jefferson County Acting Community Development Director, said Monday during the Board of Jefferson County Commissioners meeting.
“This does not authorize newly authorized projects,” Paralez said. “In other words, we’re not issuing new permits.
“This only authorizes existing projects that have already been started to continue.”
All projects must maintain social distancing and increased safety measures to protect workers, Paralez said. However, the oversight will fall on the state Department of Labor and Industries, she said.
Personal protective equipment continues to be a challenge to acquire, Clallam County Undersheriff Ron Cameron said.
Unthank said a shipment of masks arrived Friday from the state, but it was “very, very small.”
“It is getting really strict again,” Cameron said. “We’re really finding it difficult to find masks, N-95.”
And the problem isn’t limited to the North Olympic Peninsula.
“I watched the news this morning. Japan is out of masks. They’re out. It’s an international problem, it’s not just focused on Clallam County,” Cameron said. “We’re competing with the world for those masks.”
Unthank added that, while antibody tests are receiving a lot of attention, they haven’t gone through a clearance process from the federal Food and Drug Administration.
“As such, it has not been verified to be a good test,” she said.
There are concerns that people may test positive for COVID-19 who have had some other coronavirus, but not COVID-19, she said.
Sports Editor Pierre LaBossiere can be reached at [email protected].
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at [email protected].