Health officer: Modeling shows case rates likely to drop by mid-March

Vaccine-card mandate could be lifted if rate drops sooner

The North Olympic Peninsula health officer cited case modeling as she reiterated a March 11 date to lift the proof-of-vaccination mandate for dining indoors.

Dr. Allison Berry, the health officer for both Clallam and Jefferson counties, said she plans to lift her mandate by then, or sooner if COVID-19 case rates drop to 200 per 100,000 population during a two-week period.

The mandate has been in place since Sept. 2 and requires patrons to show their vaccination card in order to eat indoors at bars or restaurants in either county. Unvaccinated customers could dine outdoors or order take-out.

The mandate led to a lawsuit, settled last week, when a group of restaurant owners said the mandate was impacting their “economic liberty” and cost them revenue and customers.

“One of the salient points that they (restaurateurs) brought up is that, for many people, a case threshold is really opaque. It’s hard to believe that we are ever going to reach that case threshold,” Berry said Monday. “So for some of them, they felt like we are just never going to hit that, and that offered me the opportunity to really talk them through the modeling that we have, which is that we expect to be below that case threshold by mid-March.”

Berry said the omicron variant continues to trend downward.

The case rate in Clallam County on Monday was 1,363 per 100,000, down nearly 240 cases from last week’s rate, which was 1,601 per 100,000.

Jefferson County’s case rate on Friday was 1,068 per 100,000. That county updates case rate weekly.

Berry said when the mandate is lifted, it likely will be lifted in both counties.

“We are shooting for reaching that threshold of 200 cases per 100,000, and we think that we will hit that by mid-March, so, partly to give clarity to the local business, we are planning on lifting the order on March 11,” Berry said.

“If we hit that threshold before then, then we will lift that order earlier,” she added.

Berry said it’s possible Jefferson County’s mandate could be lifted earlier since the numbers there are typically lower than Clallam’s.

However, the threshold for lifting a masking mandate will be lower, Berry said.

“The primary reason is that masking is something we all can do. It has no economic negative, and we want to be cautious that we don’t bring about a significant unnecessary (COVID) wave by revoking masking too soon,” Berry said.

Jefferson County added 42 additional cases over the weekend, bringing its total to 2,753.

Clallam County broke the 10,000-case threshold by adding 135 over the weekend for a total of 10,059 cases since the pandemic began.

Sixteen Clallam County residents were hospitalized with the virus on Monday, 12 at Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles with five in the intensive care unit. Four additional patients were in ICUs at other hospitals.

Three Jefferson County residents were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday, two at Jefferson Healthcare in Port Townsend — one in the ICU— and the third in the ICU at a different area hospital.

Berry was asked Monday during her briefing with the Board of Jefferson County commissioners how the medical community will treat unvaccinated patients going forward, should another variant of COVID-19 arrive and place additional strain on the healthcare system.

“The idea of denial of services for people who have chosen not to get vaccinated is one that has come up in ethics discussions about hospital utilization, but it is one that we have all decided as a medical community that we are not going to do,” Berry said.

“What feels like a personal choice is not really; it affects the people around you,” she continued. “So when our hospital system gets overwhelmed by people getting treated for COVID who are predominantly not vaccinated, that affects the people around you, that affects their access to care.

“What we do in the health system is, generally, when it comes to limiting care, and there’s not enough care around and we have to decide who gets it, we make those decisions on who is most likely to survive.”

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

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