The North Olympic Peninsula’s two counties are both at high-risk for transmission of the COVID-19 virus despite waning rates of infection, so recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control won’t affect the dates already set for lifting masking mandates in the region.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced Friday new metrics for computing risk that says people in most places can safely take a break from wearing facial coverings.
The CDC has set up a color-coded map — with counties designated as orange, yellow or green — to help guide local officials and residents. It can be seen at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/covid-by-county.html.
In green counties, local officials can drop any indoor masking rules. Yellow means people at high risk for severe disease should be cautious. Orange designates places where the CDC suggests masking should be universal.
The new CDC guidance puts more than 70 percent of the U.S. population in counties where the coronavirus is posing a low or medium threat to hospitals. Those are the people who can stop wearing masks, the agency said.
The agency is still advising that people, including schoolchildren, wear masks where the risk of COVID-19 is high. That’s the situation in about 37 percent of U.S. counties, where about 28 percent of Americans reside.
How a county comes to be designated green, yellow or orange depends on its rate of new COVID-19 hospital admissions, the share of staffed hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients and the rate of new cases in the community.
Of Washington’s 39 counties, nine are orange, or high risk, 15 are yellow and 15 are low-risk green, including King County, the state’s most populous.
Both Clallam and Jefferson counties are colored orange.
“Even under the CDC’s new guidance, Clallam and Jefferson county are still in the high-risk zone so we are still recommending masks in indoor settings right now,” said Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for both counties.
“The good news is we continue to see our case rates go down so we do think we are going to be out of the high-risk space by March 21,” she said.
That is the date that has been set for removing the mandate for wearing masks indoors in public places by Gov. Jay Inslee.
Mike Faulk, a spokesman for Inslee, told The Seattle Times on Friday that while COVID trends are declining in the state, they are still very high relative to other waves over the course of the pandemic.
“Our state’s seven-day average for cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are roughly equal to what they were at the peak of the delta surge,” Faulk said. “We remain committed to March 21 lifting of most mask requirements.”
However, Inslee also has announced that the requirement for proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for indoor and outdoor events will be lifted Tuesday.
In Clallam and Jefferson counties, Berry remains committed to the March 11 date previously set for of lifting the proof-of-vaccination mandate for indoor drinking and dining at bars and restaurants.
On Friday, King County’s health officer said it will lift its indoor mask mandate on March 21 so long as local COVID-19 trends hold or improve.
Each Peninsula county reported a death from COVID-19 on Friday.
Clallam County lost a man in his 60s to the virus. He was unvaccinated, Berry said.
A Jefferson County woman who was over 100 years old also died, despite being vaccinated and boosted. Berry said her primary risks were her age and underlying conditions.
The deaths bring Clallam County’s death toll since the pandemic began to 102 people, while Jefferson County has had 27 of its residents die of the virus since the pandemic began.
Clallam County’s case rates were reported Friday to be 576 cases per 100,000 population. That’s down from the 626 cases per 100,000 reported on Thursday.
Jefferson County reports case rates weekly rather than daily. On Friday, it reported a case rate of 525 cases per 100,000 population, which is down from the rate announced a week earlier of 618 cases per 100,000.
Case rates are the reflection of cases reported over a two-week period. They are computed using a formula based on 100,000 population for counties that do not have 100,000 people living in them.
Despite case rates falling, Clallam County added 87 more cases to its total on Friday. Its total number of confirmed cases since the pandemic began is now 10,771, up from Thursday’s reported total since the pandemic began of 10,684.
Jefferson County also saw an increase in cases. It reported 15 more cases on Friday, bringing its total since the pandemic began to 3,030 from 3,015 reported Thursday.
Clallam County reports seven people now hospitalized with the virus, with a total of 352 having been hospitalized over the past two years.
Jefferson County reports four people presently hospitalized with the virus. Its total over the course of the pandemic has been 111.
Jefferson County on Friday reported 116 people in isolation with active cases, up from Thursday’s number of 105.
Clallam County does not report that metric but does report a daily average over a two-week period.
On its COVID-19 dashboard, Clallam County said on Friday that the average daily number of cases from Feb. 9 to Feb. 22 was 31, down from Thursday’s average daily total of 34. On Wednesday, it was 38. On Tuesday, that number was 40.
The new CDC recommendations do not change the requirement to wear masks on public transportation and indoors in airports, train stations and bus stations.
The CDC guidelines for other indoor spaces aren’t binding, meaning cities and institutions even in areas of low risk may set their own rules. And the agency says people with COVID-19 symptoms or who test positive shouldn’t stop wearing masks.