Health officials are working on a universal mandatory mask mandate for inside businesses, restaurants and events on the North Olympic Peninsula due to the continued rapid surge in COVID-19 cases the community is experiencing.
The decision about and specifics of the mandate were still in discussions Thursday, and an official announcement regarding it will be made this morning at 10 a.m., during the briefing by Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Jefferson and Clallam counties.
The meeting can be viewed by going to www.clallam.net/Coronavirus.
The potential return to masking is driven by the continued rise in cases that both counties are seeing, with Clallam County adding 56 new cases between Wednesday and Thursday and Jefferson adding 12 new cases between the two days, according to county public health data.
Clallam County also continues to set new records for its case rate, eclipsing the 300 mark for the first time since the pandemic began with a rate of 333 cases per 100,000 population for the past two weeks as of Thursday. A total of 253 cases have been confirmed during that time period, according to county health data.
Jefferson County calculates its case rate weekly. It recorded a case rate of 197.49 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Saturday, with 62 confirmed during that time period, according to county health data.
The high case rates are “deeply concerning,” Berry said. “When we see numbers this high, it’s going to take everything we have to turn this around and prevent really catastrophic consequences when we see case rates this high.
“We’re using all of our staff to the maximum extent of their time. We are seriously looking at additional mitigations measures that will be needed to get COVID-19 under control in our community, so we can keep our hospitals open and the remainder of our society functioning.”
Clallam County has confirmed a total of 1,916 cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. Jefferson County has confirmed a total of 573 cases.
Eighteen people have died from COVID-19 in Clallam County, while four have died in Jefferson County.
In addition to the potential mask mandate locally, all the health officers across the state have collaborated on a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee’s office to press for a statewide masking mandate regardless of vaccination status, Berry said.
“There’s a lot of interest and pressure from the health officers to move towards this statewide masking mandate,” Berry said. “There is universal interest in it from the health officers around the state.”
Berry continues to urge all residents 12 and older to get vaccinated for COVID-19 as soon as possible, and she noted a slight increase in vaccinations this week in Clallam, primarily stemming from health care workers, who are now required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 due to an order Inslee announced Monday.
People who are unvaccinated and are indoors with others who are unvaccinated and unmasked have a high risk of contracting COVID-19, Berry said.
“If you are unvaccinated, you will get COVID-19, it’s just a matter of time,” Berry said. “COVID is with us, it’s certainly here in large numbers in the community, and our goal is to get through it as a community.
“The way we do that is by being resilient and adapting to this new situation. We can’t pretend it’s not here. It’s here, but we can get through it if we adapt, and the way we adapt is by taking this readily available safe and effective vaccine and by putting our masks on in indoor spaces.”
On Thursday, Jefferson Healthcare started to allow people with mild COVID-like symptoms, who do not want medical help and only want to be tested for COVID-19 to pick up a self-swab test kit outside the Express Clinic entrance at the main hospital, according to a press release from the hospital.
Kit pickup is available from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Collection kits are accepted for testing at the Jefferson Healthcare drive-through testing station from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, the press release said.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected]