The national Centers for Disease Control and state Department of Health are recommending all people, including those who are asymptomatic, should wear cloth face masks in public under certain circumstances.
The CDC emphasized that people without symptoms — who are not are not coughing, sneezing or experiencing chest pains or fever — can spread the virus.
“We now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms,” the CDC said Friday on its website (www.tinyurl.com/PDN-FaceMask).
“This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity — for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing — even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms, the directive continued.
“In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”
Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said he agreed with the recommendation as a way of preventing the spread of the infection, emphasizing that care should be used when taking off the mask so that the potential infection does not spread and that their use should not replace social distancing measures.
“It’s critically important for people to do the things that they are doing now, such as social distancing and hand-washing,” he said.]
The state Department of Health said that the recommendation is not a substitute for maintaining 6-feet of physical distance from non-household members and performing frequent hand hygiene with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
“Wearing cloth face coverings will not prevent spread of COVID-19 without these other protective measures,” the state said.
Locke and Clallam County Health Officer Allison Unthank agreed with the state that this doesn’t mean people can abandon other protection measures.
“This doesn’t replace social distancing.” Unthank said.
”A lot of the [change in CDC policy] is aimed at New York City. In Clallam County, it’s a lot easier to stay apart. It’s reasonable to wear a mask, not medical masks [because these are needed by health care professionals].”
Unthank believes there are likely few asymptomatic cases.
“There’s some evidence of it in rare cases. It’s people spreading it before they realize they have symptoms — that’s really most cases,” she said.
Still, the uncertainty over what the percentage actually is “underscores the need to continue the 6-foot rule,” Locke said.
The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the North Olympic Peninsula grew by one Saturday, bringing the total so far to 28. A new case is being investigated in Jefferson County. No new cases were reported in Clallam County on Friday or Saturday.
There are eight positive cases in Clallam, with 417 residents testing negative and the results of 50 tests pending.
There are 20 positive cases in Jefferson, including one new case being investigated Saturday, with 500 residents testing negative and the results of 48 tests pending.
Locke said local volunteers are making masks for area hospitals to be used by patients so that more high-tech masks can be used by medical professionals. He said even a bandanna over the face can do some good. It won’t filter out the virus, but it will help keep a person’s bodily fluids from traveling when talking, coughing or sneezing.
“It’s more to protect other people from you,” Unthank said. “The main thing is keep that 6-foot space.”
The CDC has recommendations at shorturl.at/twVY3 on how people can make their own masks.
He added that touching newsprint and paper such as mail “is a very low risk” and is no risk if people wash their hands after touching paper and before touching their faces.
Locke said experts are trying to determine how many carriers of COVID-19 are asymptomatic.
Some estimates state that number could be as high as 20 percent to 40 percent of the people who have the virus, but he stressed that it’s hard to determine because a large number of people with no symptoms need to be tested to find antibodies for COVID-19 to come up with an accurate estimate.
Right now, pretty much everyone who is being tested has symptoms.
Locke said many of the asymptomatic carriers might be children.
Health officials in Clallam and Jefferson counties have said the highly contagious respiratory virus will peak on the North Olympic Peninsula in the next two to four weeks, although they have been encouraged that the number of positive cases appears to be stabilizing.
Locke and Unthank were on a call Friday with other health officials from across Washington during which they learned demands for medical equipment to fight the virus will increase in rural areas at the end of April to early May, even if rigorous social distancing is practiced.
It may drop off by the end of May “as long as people keep up their transmission-reducing efforts,” Locke said.
“We’ve been stuck on eight cases for a while — that’s hopeful,” Unthank said. “They’re working hard on this. It seems to be working.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at [email protected].
Sports Editor Pierre LaBossiere can be reached at [email protected]