Peninsula counties both in moderate risk category

Health officials hope trend reverses for holiday weekend

Both counties on the North Olympic Peninsula were in the state’s moderate-risk category as no new cases of COVID-19 were reported Monday.

Clallam County dropped from the state’s high-risk category based on infection rates per 100,000 population during the past two weeks, and Jefferson County remained on the low end of the category.

Moderate risk is defined as between 25 and 75 cases per 100,000 per 14 days. The data on the state’s website for each county’s case rate is not accurate due to discrepancies in reporting at the state level, county health officers said.

As of Monday, Clallam County had a case rate of 63 per 100,000 for the last two weeks, and Jefferson County had a case rate of 28 per 100,000 during the same time period, county health officers said.

School districts in both counties begin this week using different models of in-person and online instruction. Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said he’s been working closely with the districts and superintendents on having in-person school be as safe as it can.

“I’m certainly impressed with how prepared they are and how carefully they considered their reopening plans,” Locke said. “At this point, the success or failure of this is going to have much more to do with what goes on outside the schools than what goes on inside.

“They’re going to be doing what they can to prevent transmission and to quickly evaluate any students and staff who have exposure risk or have symptoms,” he added. “But, students spend most of their time outside the classroom and so what goes on at home, what goes on with those students and their activities outside of school, and probably what goes on during Labor Day weekend, is going to have a significant impact.”

Both Locke and Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank said they are concerned about the upcoming holiday weekend, as surges in cases followed after Fourth of July and Memorial Day weekends.

“We really have seen spikes after every major holiday, and we need this weekend to be an exception,” Unthank said.

Locke added: “From an epidemic standpoint, the Fourth of July was a disaster. It really was the thing that set off outbreak in Washington state and also the Olympic Peninsula.

“So we really don’t want to see a repeat of that,” he said. “People really let down their guard. They had big gatherings, they ignored masking and distancing guidelines, and the results were all too predictable. This is not the holiday to have big gatherings.”

Both health officers also are concerned about a trend that is appearing in towns and cities surrounding universities, which are seeing a large rise in case numbers, such as Whitman County, where Washington State University is located, which had 143 of its 485 total confirmed cases reported between Friday and Sunday, according to Whitman County Emergency Operations Center.

Jefferson County traced some of its positive cases earlier this summer to fraternities at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Although many colleges and universities are online, many students have been moving into off-campus housing and are gathering and partying outside of classes, and Unthank is recommending any students who attend college to keep their social circle small and to avoid gatherings.

“Young adults admittedly have a low risk of complications, but when these outbreaks occur, they inevitably spill out into the larger community, including into these high-risk populations that we’re trying to protect from the infection,” Locke said.

Clallam County has had 212 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one death since March, with 29 cases currently active. The county has seen 1.9 percent of tests return positive results, according to Clallam County Public Health data.

Jefferson County has had 70 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and no deaths since March, with 16 cases currently active. The county’s has had 1.05 percent of tests return positive results, according to Jefferson County Public Health data.

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

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