Update: Another case of COVID was confirmed on Orcas on Aug. 17. The total is now 13 for Orcas and 32 for the county.
A single case of COVID-19 on Orcas Island is the first to be announced in the county since July. This is the 31st in the county and the 12th on Orcas, according to San Juan County.
“The case occurred in an Orcas Island resident who was tested off-island. Due to [the] timing and nature of recent travel history, it is likely that transmission occurred off-island. This case has resulted in no close contacts requiring quarantine,” the county said in a press release
During an Aug. 11 council meeting, San Juan County Environmental Health Manager Kyle Dodd updated the council on the status of the disease in the county.
“I will say it has been a quiet week and a half as far as new cases go,” Dodd said.
Dodd referenced the county’s Hot Topic No. 28, which summarized the cases to date. Seven of the confirmed infections came from close contact with an infected visitor, he explained.
“We don’t have community transmission in San Juan County to date. We haven’t seen that. That hasn’t been our experience,” Dodd said.
Islanders need to remain vigilant with social distancing, wearing face coverings and exercising caution while traveling, Dodd explained. He added only three positive cases in San Juan County resulted in additional positive cases.
“A very extremely low reproductive rate and [the] credit really goes to the cases themselves and the close contacts,” Dodd said. “And also our team, who have jumped on these cases right away. Literally phoning the evening and after hours when we receive a notification to ensure that everybody understands what their obligations are to either isolate if they’re the case and if there are any close contact to quarantine. I want to commend everybody who has been through that experience. It has really resulted in a community benefit.”
Dodd noted three of the cases appear to be false positives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he explained, there’s a strict definition about how to classify a case as a false positive.
After a positive is discovered in lab testing, Dodd continued, there need to be two negative lab tests and then a negative antibody test to verify the false negative. Two of the three have gone through this process, according to Dodd.
Another three positive cases in the county were discovered during asymptomatic testing, Dodd said.
In total, the county contact 147 close contacts resulting from the 30 cases, according to Dodd.
“The reality is we have an extraordinary achievement in our community to have so few cases,” San Juan County Public Health Officer Dr. Frank James said.
James noted there has been very little transmission within the county even though a number of high-risk people appear to be visiting. He credits the low transmission rate to the community’s continued use of face coverings.
“Face coverings protect everybody else. It’s a critically important thing that we’ve done,” James said. “It’s been extraordinarily successful. … We can’t take that for granted, we have to double down on it.”
The cases in the county do show, however, that local transmission of the disease has mostly occurred in the home, among friends family and neighbors, James explained.
“The time that we need to be diligent as islanders is when we invite friends, family and neighbors into our home,” James said. “That’s when the transmissions have occurred here. That’s when we let down our guard and we can’t.”
James stressed the necessity for everyone to continue wearing face coverings and maintaining social distance, even among friends and family who are visiting. He added that the county’s 14-day quarantine recommendation is still in effect. When coming to the islands it is suggested that anyone who has been off-island quarantine themselves for 14 days upon arrival — if they can.
“If people feel like they can’t quarantine then they have an additional responsibility to remain socially distanced and wear a mask all the time when they’re out in public for those14 days,” James said. “That’s what will allow us to continue to have the remarkably low rates that we currently have.”
Recent studies have shown that 30 percent of infected people do not know they have the disease, James said, adding that they’re just as infectious as those who are showing symptoms.
James released his recommendation to schools on Aug. 13. He requested that schools do not reopen at this point. Lopez, Orcas and San Juan school districts have all released information regarding their intentions to begin the school year virtually.
“Every day, additional significant information has come forward about the risks for kids in general,” James said. “I don’t think we should be lead to believe we have a great risk going forward.”
The situation with the virus at both the state and federal level is still alarming to James.
“I don’t think we can be complacent,” James said. “We cannot let our guard down now, we have to be vigilant about it.”