After nearly six weeks without a new COVID-19 case in San Juan County, and just two days after the county could have applied to enter Phase Three, the 16th case was discovered. Over the next week, two more cases would be announced bringing the county total cases to 18.
“While remaining free of further cases in San Juan County would have been nice, our chances of doing so were always slim,” San Juan County Public Health Officer Dr. Frank James said in a June 15 press release. “This exact situation is something we have been preparing for.”
The first new case was that of a Roche Harbor employee who was tested prior to beginning their new job at the resort. San Juan County’s contact tracing team quickly went to work identifying at least seven people the patient had come into contact with, James told the San Juan County Council during its June 16 meeting.
“The employer did everything right. They’re testing their employees before being allowed to start work and have been extremely responsive and cooperative with public health staff. With robust contact tracing, we hope to be able to contain this case and prevent further spread,” James said in the June 15 press release. “We will only know if we are successful after testing and close ongoing monitoring, but at the moment I’m optimistic. That optimism is due to very strong proactive approach by the employer and a quick response from the public health team.”
According to James, Roche Harbor is housing its new-to-island employees in small groups together and testing each one prior to them beginning work.
“Those are extraordinarily powerful moves that help protect our community and I’m personally very grateful that [Roche Harbor] had that approach,” James told the council on June 16.
The second case was announced on June 20, another person residing on San Juan Island, this time a resident of the Village at the Harbour senior living community.
“This is a serious and worrying development and is something we and the facility have been working hard to avoid,” James said in a June 20 press release. “Our hope is that aggressive containment, rapid testing, and careful but quick investigation will limit transmission. We will know more in the days to come.”
Village at the Harbour has been restricting access for several months, according to the press release. It allowed only staff and residents to enter, much like all other senior care facilities in the state.
A joint testing effort between the public health team and Village at the Harbour at the end of May had concluded all residents and employees were negative for COVID.
“We’ve been communicating with families of residents and are working side by side with the County Health Department to identify the route of the transmission and reduce the risk of further spread,” Village at the Harbour Administrator Evan Perrollaz said in a June 20 press release. “This is clearly a complex and challenging time for our entire community of residents, families, and staff. We pride ourselves on devout and diligent care for our residents and have been doing all we can to avoid this exact scenario. We will respond rapidly and thoroughly.”
The next day, on June 21, yet another case of COVID-19 was announced. This time on Lopez Island — its first since April 1. As with the other two active cases, James said the county is working to identify anyone who may have come in close contact with the patient.
James reminded the community that all islanders need to remain vigilant. He said everyone needs to be thoughtful about mainland travel and having close contact with people visiting from the mainland.
“[These cases] highlight that the disease is still out there and that we can’t relax our basic precautions as we move forward,” James said. “Hygiene, social distancing, covering our faces, and quick testing for anyone with symptoms are vital. We have to stay focused.”
James predicted the disease will remain for many months to come. He noted that it is not spread through casual interactions with an infected person but through close contact. He emphasized the importance of wearing facial coverings, especially in areas where social distancing is not possible and avoiding indoor socialization whenever feasible.
“Several Eastern Washington counties continue to deal with very large outbreaks and [are] trying to get the growth in cases that they’re experiencing under control,” San Juan County Environmental Health Manager Kyle Dodd told the council on June 16. “There is some indication as well that activity is increasing in Western Washington as well. We’ll continue to monitor that.”
James told the council on June 16 that he is concerned with the lack of testing that has occurred on Orcas. In the group of 300 essential employees tested by the county in mid-May, “only a handful” were on Orcas Island.
“We really need to focus our efforts at the health department on Orcas right now. They’ve had the most cases, I think there is ongoing risk there,” James said. “We really need to get over there with our staff and these private folks coming forward and offering to do this in our community is a very important partnership and I’m very grateful that they were willing and able to do that.”
James noted there will likely be another wave of COVID-19 to sweep the country in September or October.
“That does not take into account the 60,000 people who were marching in Seattle, Everett, Bellingham and other locations who weren’t as thoughtful as the people in our community,” James said. “My understanding — I wasn’t there — was that people almost universally wore masks and were maintaining good social distancing. That didn’t happen in these other communities.”