New virus cases reported

Inslee relaxes guide for in-person teaching

The same day that Jefferson County vaccinated its first health care workers against COVID-19, Clallam County confirmed 17 new cases of the novel coronavirus.

Clallam County’s new cases remained under investigation Wednesday, said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer. Jefferson County held steady with no new cases reported, said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday new recommendations for school districts regarding in-person learning. He loosened the case rate caps to allow younger students to be able to resume in-person education if cases in their counties are below a certain number.

School districts in counties with case rates below 50 cases per 100,000 population for two weeks can provide in-person education for all students, while still following COVID-19 prevention protocols, according to the state Department of Health.

If case rates are between 50 and 350 per 100,000 residents, the state encourages districts to open elementary and middle schools.

In counties with more than 350 cases per 100,000 residents, the new standards encourage elementary school students to be returned to school in small groups of 15 or fewer.

Clallam County had a case rate of 159 per 100,000 for the past two weeks as of Wednesday, while Jefferson County’s case rate was about 94 cases per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Monday.

Public school districts on the North Olympic Peninsula are currently using all online or hybrid in-person/online instruction models as of Wednesday.

Until most have been vaccinated, health officials are urging people to maintain precautions.

Locke said now is the time more than ever to be following COVID-19 prevention guidelines such as mask wearing, social distancing, avoiding gathering and practicing good hand hygiene, as the pandemic will continue to get worse over the holidays if people aren’t cautious.

“This is going to get worse before it gets better,” he said. “Confine your holiday celebrations to your household.

“When people choose to travel, their risk of exposure is higher than it’s ever been.”

Locke said the pattern that he has observed in cases where travel led to new cases of COVID-19 is that people are exposed to the virus and become infected. By the time they know they are infected, they have returned home and exposed others.

He encourages people to be hopeful now that the Pfizer vaccine is being administered and the Moderna vaccine is likely to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration soon, but he maintained that people should remain cautious, or hospitals could get overwhelmed.

This next month will be the most critical time for people to follow prevention protocols to keep the epidemic manageable locally through January to March. If residents aren’t careful, case levels, hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 will be “nothing we’ve ever experienced before,” Locke said.

“This is not the end. This is the beginning of the end,” he said. “This is the final surge, if we do this right.”

So far this month, Jefferson County has confirmed 28 cases of COVID-19, about 14.1 percent of the 198 total cases the county has confirmed since March, according to Jefferson County Public Health data.

Clallam County has confirmed 131 cases this month, about 20.2 percent of the 647 total cases the county has confirmed since March, according to Clallam County Public Health data.

There are currently 52 active COVID-19 cases in Clallam County, and eight active cases in Jefferson County.

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5 or at [email protected].

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