SOUTH BEND — Pacific County health officials announced six new covid-19 cases on Monday, July 20, the largest case increase in a day since the start of the pandemic.

With the six new cases, plus another case reported on July 18, the county’s total case count rose to 25 as of Monday, July 20. The new cases show Pacific County is not immune from the covid-19 increases being seen across Washington and in neighboring coastal communities.

Even with this latest increase in cases, Pacific County’s official rate of infection is about nine per 10,000 in population, a small fraction of the approximately 160 per 10,000 residents statewide.

The statewide rise in case numbers led Gov. Jay Inslee to reduce the number of people allowed to gather together in Phase Three Safe Start Counties. As of Monday, July 20, gatherings in Pacific County must have no more than 10 attendees and no live entertainment will be allowed anywhere in the state.

Pacific County’s seven new cases are all active, and are the only active cases in the county. The people involved are being monitored by public health nurses with Pacific County Public Health and Human Services. Nurses are also looking for possible close contacts of those with the disease to see if anyone else was exposed.

“My hope is with these additional cases, people take that as a sign to continue to take this seriously and to continue social distancing,” said Katie Lindstrom, director of the Pacific County Public Health and Human Services Department.

Grays Harbor reported 24 new cases since July 1, bringing its total number of cases to 66 as of July 19. Clatsop County was at 67 cases as of July 20, with 18 new cases since July 1.

Washington’s case total was 41,575 as of July 19, with 7,426 new cases reported since July 1. Cases appear to be increasing at a faster rate compared to June, when Washington’s case total rose by just 5,990 between June 19 and June 1.

During a news conference Thursday, July 16, Inslee announced the changes for phase three counties and said if there isn’t a reduction in new cases, the whole state could roll back more of its reopening.

“We cannot rule out the potential for another stay-home order this year,” Inslee said.

Since the pandemic began, 1,453 Washingtonians have died.

New cases and testing delays

Test result turnaround times are slower than when Pacific County first began testing, and it can be almost a week before health officials can confirm a case, Lindstrom said. While rapid testing can return results in a day, those tests need to be confirmed by a lab test. Willapa Harbor Hospital is offering rapid tests to anyone and people do not need to have symptoms to be tested at the hospital. For more information about that testing, people can call 360-875-5526.

Of the six new cases reported on July 20, three cases are people in the same household, two cases are people in another household and one case came as a result of a family gathering. There are no known contacts between these groups at this time, according to the county’s release.

When the cases aren’t connected to one another, that is a bad sign, Lindstrom said. It also isn’t clear in all the cases how the people contracted the virus.

The sick person from the case announced on July 18 was a close contact of one of the people previously confirmed to have covid-19 in Pacific County.

Some of the people are symptomatic. All individuals are isolating at home.

Visitors to the coast

The county is still monitoring how the Fourth of July holiday may have changed the number of cases in the area, said Stephanie Michael, health manager for the Pacific County health department. Coastal communities saw an influx of travel at the start of July for Independence Day. A test of the Long Beach sewer system estimated about 30 people in the city on July 5 were shedding the virus that causes covid-19.

Inslee did not order the beaches closed for the holiday, and local leaders did not close beach approaches, fearing it would cause visitors to swarm the cities’ businesses. First responders and law enforcement were also concerned about how closing beach approaches would affect their ability to respond to emergencies on the beach.

The state’s decision not to close the beaches prior to the holiday was due in part to Inslee not being “omnipotent,” he said during Thursday’s news conference.

“We’re doing everything we can to save lives but I haven’t been able to have a decision making for every hundred yards in the state of Washington,” Inslee said. “We just did not consider there being that level of risk that justified additional decision making that was specific to the ocean beaches.”

The incubation period for covid-19 can be as much as two weeks, and people may not recognize the onset of symptoms for a few days. With the delay in time to get tested and the delay in getting test results, Michael said the county wouldn’t know whether the holiday increased covid-19 cases until about the week of July 27, Michael said.

“So far I feel like Pacific County’s been pretty fortunate we haven’t had to deal with a ton of positive cases,” Michael said.

Individual behavior is the key to helping keep case counts low, she said. Many new cases are the result of socialization, something people must continue to try and limit. Wearing masks is also important as more evidence shows it can do a lot to reduce the spread of the disease, Michael said.

One thing that was encouraging was the work being done by the public health nurses, Lindstrom said. The county’s systems for contact tracing are proving to be effective, she said. That is the piece that is going to stop the spread, Lindstrom said.

“Pacific County Public Health and Human Services will continue to investigate these most recent cases and strongly encourages the public to limit non-essential travel, maintain social distancing of at least six feet between persons, and practice personal protective measures to include: correctly wearing a mask/face covering in public, washing hands often with soapy water for at least 20 seconds, and avoid touching your face,” the agency said in a press release.

For timely information and advice about how to keep yourself and your family healthy, visit www.pacificcountycovid19.com.

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