Masking indoors recommended, but mandates not likely to return

Pfizer now offering booster for children ages 5 to 11

Public masking mandates are not likely to return despite increasing COVID-19 cases across the Peninsula, and even if they did, they would be behind the curve, a health official said.

“We are already at the point where masking is strongly recommended in both counties,” Deputy Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said. “But because of the extreme resistance to masking, I think it is unlikely we will go back to mandates until the levels of COVID-19 start impacting the healthcare system.”

Hospitalizations and deaths are going up across the country, but Peninsula health officials are not seeing the same impact on the healthcare system that they saw with COVID-19 earlier this year or at the beginning of the pandemic.

“At the point where the disease activity is impacting the healthcare system the way it was back in January and February, if we started seeing that, then mandatory masking would come back, but a lot of people are concerned that that’s too late,” Locke said. “That, by the time it hits the healthcare system, we will be two to three weeks behind the curve.”

Clallam County reported 350 new cases since May 16, bringing its total from 11,982 to 12,332 cases of COVID-19 with a case rate of 817 per 100,000 population. There were no residents hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday.

Jefferson County reported 37 new cases since May 16, bringing its total from 3,875 to 3,912 with a case rate of 848 per 100,000. Two residents were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday.

No new deaths were reported in either county in the past week.

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.

“Right now we are trying to maximize voluntary masking,” Locke said. “Fundamentally, you should not have to force people to do the right thing in terms of protecting other people, yourself and your family. Wearing a mask when in an increased exposure risk is just common sense, especially with these new, more-contagious variants.”

The current dominant variant is the BA.12.1, another sub-variant of the omicron variant of COVID-19.

BA.12.1 is not as severe as previous COVID-19 variants, but it is more contagious, to the point where vaccination and previous infection offer only some protection, Locke said.

“These sub-variants are outsmarting the immune system and finding ways to evade prior immunity, and it’s a big reason why we are seeing more cases,” he said. “It’s more contagious and it exists in this phenomenon called immune escape.”

Vaccines

Pfizer announced last week that vaccine boosters are now available for children 5 to 11 years old.

“The expansion of booster eligibility comes as COVID-19 cases are continuing to steadily rise across the county,” the state Department of Health said in a press release. “The myth that COVID-19 is always a mild disease in children needs to be dispelled. Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 4.8 million children ages 5-11 have been diagnosed with COVID-19, with 15,000 hospitalized and, tragically, 180 deceased.”

COVID-19 cases have steadily increased in schools, with many districts choosing to adopt temporary masking mandates to control the spread.

“I strongly recommend that people get their children vaccinated and boosted,” Locke said. “I think it’s important for people to look at COVID-19 vaccination as a three-dose process. We know that really clear at this point, the combination of the first two doses and then waiting a period of time for the booster is how you maximize the benefit of the vaccine.”

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

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