COVID omicron sub-variant raising concern nationally

Strategies changing to respond to endemic disease situation

North Olympic Peninsula public health officials are keeping a wary eye on the BA.2 omicron variant.

Nationally, “there is some worrisome news,” Dr. Tom Locke, deputy health officer for Jefferson County, told Jefferson County commissioners on Tuesday.

“It’s very preliminary but we are seeing the rates of BA.2 climb. They’re still very low, with 2.5 percent of cases found in the Northwest in early February, but since last week it has doubled to about 4.6 percent.

“So if we continue to see this steady increase in these types of case rates that could be a problem,” Locke said.

However, “the omicron wave was so intense that there aren’t enough people left for it to actually cause an outbreak,” Locke said.

Whatever occurs nationally tends to happen later in the Northwest, Locke observed.

“Omicron cases are dropping nationally and likewise across the state, but not as far down and the explanation is that the peaks were different,” he said.

“Omicron peaked nationally in the middle of January whereas it didn’t peak in the Northwest until the end of January. So our cases are dropping at the same rate as other areas of the country but we have farther to go.”

Locke also told commissioners about pivoting to treating COVID-19 as endemic disease rather than as a pandemic, especially with mask mandates being lifted statewide on March 21.

“We talked about changing strategies for dealing with this,” Locke said. “We need to be retooling our efforts so there is something that is long-term sustainable and least disreputable as possible.”

Locke said that Jefferson County’s case rate has been on a consistent downward trend with Clallam County hitting small plateaus.

Jefferson County’s current case rate, which is updated every Friday, is 618 cases per 100,000 population.

Clallam County’s case rate dropped to 732 cases per 100,000 population on Tuesday from 897 cases per 100,000 last week.

“Clallam is getting closer to Jefferson and we expect to continue to see those rates drop and that’s the good news,” Locke said.

Local statistics

Case rates are the reflection of cases reported over a two-week period.

They are computed using a formula based on 100,000 population, even for counties — such as Clallam and Jefferson — that do not have 100,000 population.

Jefferson County added 42 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing its total since the pandemic began to 2,990 from 2,948 on Friday.

Clallam County added 67 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing its total since the pandemic began to 10,645 from 10,578 reported Friday.

Jefferson County on Tuesday reported 105 people in isolation with active cases, down from 128 people in isolation with active cases reported Friday.

Clallam County does not report that metric but does report a daily average over the past two weeks.

On its COVID-19 dashboard, Clallam County said on Tuesday that the average daily number of cases over the past two weeks has been 40.

On Friday, that number was 49, on Thursday 53 and a week ago last Wednesday, 58.

No new deaths were reported in either county on Tuesday.

Clallam County has had 99 residents die of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, while Jefferson County has had 26 residents die of the virus since the pandemic began.

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Reporter Ken Park can be reached at kpark@peninsuladailynews.com.

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