Highly infectious COVID-19 on the rise

Masks encouraged indoors

The dominant strain of COVID-19 on the North Olympic Peninsula now is BA.5. an Omicron sub-variant.

And cases are on the rise.

According to Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, the variant is more transmissible than previous varieties.

It is not considered more severe than earlier variants but it can evade some of the protection provided by previous infections and/or current vaccines/boosters.

“Immune escape is a technical term for it,” Berry said.

”It means that the virus can get past the immunity that we have already developed either through prior infection or through vaccination.”

Prior infection and the current round of vaccines have never completely protected people from getting COVID-19. They did lower the risk of developing severe disease that could lead to hospitalization and reduced the likelihood of getting the virus again.

“At this point, you can’t count on having had COVID-19 keeping you from getting it again and you can’t count on being vaccinated keeping you from getting COVID-19. Both of those things reduce the risk, but not down to zero,” Berry said.

”The primary benefit from vaccines at this point is reducing severe disease.”

Despite the newest variant having a higher rate of transmission than others, Berry doubts that there will be a return to masking mandates any time soon. But she continues to encourage people to wear masks in crowded spaces, especially in indoor settings.

“Surgical masks work fine to protect others from getting COVID-19 but a KN95 and other good-quality masks are better for protecting yourself and are highly recommended for travel and on public transportation,” Berry said.

On Monday, Jefferson County recorded 5,035 total COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, with a case rate of 712 per 100,000 population. No new deaths nor any hospitalizations were reported.

Clallam County recorded 14,243 total COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, with a case rate of 567 per 100,000 population. Three people were reported hospitalized with the virus at Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles. No new deaths were reported.

Case rates are a reflection of cases reported during a two-week period. They are computed using a formula based on a 100,000 population even for counties that do not have 100,000 people living in them.

In terms of vaccines, a second booster has been recommended for people over 50 and those with particular health conditions that could be further complicated should they contract COVID-19.

Jefferson County Commissioner Kate Dean asked Berry on Monday if a second booster is likely to be offered or recommended to folks under 50.

“It’s unclear at this point if there will be,” Berry said. “There just isn’t enough data right now to support the recommendation for folks under 50.

“We are, however, likely to see a booster or flu vaccine recommended in the fall that could offer some additional protection from COVID-19 as well,” Berry said.

Commissioner Greg Brotherton asked about vaccine availability globally.

“Right now we have enough of the vaccine,” Berry said.

“The challenge is the distribution infrastructure. So many places just don’t have the infrastructure to vaccinate their people.”

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Reporter Ken Park can be reached at [email protected].

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