COVID-19 cases are rising across the North Olympic Peninsula as more residents drop their face masks.
“So far, we are not seeing any severe disease from these high rates, but there is certainly a lot more COVID-19 positivity and activity, which is likely due to changes in behavior,” said Dr. Allison Berry, public health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties.
Jefferson County climbed higher into the state’s high-risk category, according to Friday’s update, while Clallam County added more cases but stayed within the moderate-risk category.
The public health advice in both counties is for people to wear masks indoors in places that are open to the public, although mandates are not likely to return unless hospitalizations — as of Friday, they were at zero in both counties — increase drastically.
In Jefferson County, the recommendation on the website on the county dashboard at https://jeffersoncountypublichealth.org/1466/Case-Information is that everyone — including those who have been vaccinated — wear masks in public indoor settings, given the high risk of COVID-19 transmission.
In Clallam County, where the risk is documented as lower, although it’s rising, the recommendation on the county dashboard at https://www.clallam.net/coronavirus/ is that people wear masks indoors, “especially if unvaccinated or when the vaccination status of others around you is unknown.”
The case rate in Jefferson County jumped from 270 per 100,000 population on Tuesday to 357 per 100,000 on Friday.
Any number over 200 is considered high-risk.
The county added 47 new cases, bringing its total since the pandemic began to 3,374.
Clallam County reported a case rate of 117 per 100,000 population on Tuesday and is now reporting a case rate of 139 per 100,000 in addition to 59 more positive cases, bringing its total over the past two years to 11,207.
Case rates are a reflection of cases reported during a two-week period. They are computed using a formula based on 100,000 population even for counties that do not have 100,000 people living in them.
Historically, Jefferson County has had lower case rates than Clallam, though that may have had more to do with a lower rate of reporting from Clallam County, Berry said.
“It’s interesting to look at and see what’s going on there. It definitely is a big flip for us,” Berry said.
“It’s not really clear what’s driving it. We are seeing a big behavior change in Jefferson, which I think is probably one of the big things that really kept Jefferson’s numbers so low — people were wearing masks indoors. So I think that (rising cases) is showing the power of the behavior change,” Berry said.
Clallam recently added to its reporting system the new online form https://app.smartsheet.com/b/form/5b381c224d8d45459c67c39ffa305f8f in addition to the COVID hotline 1-800-525-0127, which Berry says has increased reporting in Clallam from 10 percent to 30 percent.
“We have seen more reporting. Still not as much as in Jefferson, which was kind of anticipated,” she said.
“It used to be about 10 percent of our cases on any given day were from home antigen tests; now it’s about 30 percent,” in Clallam County, Berry said.
Despite the significant jump in case rates and the climbing number of cases, Berry said masking mandates are not likely to return unless the region starts seeing more severe diseases as it did with the original COVID-19 virus.
There is currently no one from either county hospitalized for COVID-19, and no new deaths from COVID-19 have been reported in either county.
“We are always looking at the data,” Berry said. “Really the big trigger for masking mandates would be if we saw a spike in severe disease, and we’re not seeing that.
“We’re not seeing folks be hospitalized, and we’re not seeing a spike in severe disease in other parts of the country either, so if places that had earlier waves started to see a spike in hospitalizations, that would really change our course here,” she added.
Nevertheless, Berry recommends that folks continue to wear mask indoors when case rates are as high as they are.
“With case rates like this, the probability that someone in the indoor space that you’re in has COVID-19 is high, so if you are going into an indoor space, like shopping, classroom or work, we recommend masking,” Berry said Friday.
“That’s really the best defense, other than getting vaccinated, to reduce transmission.”
Reporter Ken Park can be reached at [email protected].