Peninsula health officials laud statewide masking order

The North Olympic Peninsula’s two county health officers said a statewide masking order for COVID-19 will improve compliance.

Gov. Jay Inslee, who ordered masks for hard-hit Yakima County over the weekend, extended the mandate to all 39 counties Tuesday.

The order takes effect Friday.

“The hope was always that people would start to mask independently with the recommendation,” Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank said before the governor’s announcement Tuesday.

“Unfortunately, we’re seeing so many parts of the state, including many parts of our county, where people really aren’t masking even though we’ve been recommending it for a while.”

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke had imposed a mandatory countywide masking directive but did not seek an order like San Juan County had.

“Using criminal penalties is an absolute last resort,” Locke said in a Tuesday interview.

“We don’t want to transfer the difficult work of behavior change to the police. The police have plenty of work to do already.”

Locke said he was challenging Jefferson County businesses and the greater community to achieve a 90-percent masking compliance rate.

Health officials say face coverings help protect others from asymptomatic spread of COVID-19.

“What we’re going for is people who are infected with the virus but don’t even know it,” Locke said.

“They either don’t feel sick at all, or they feel so mildly ill that they’re not restricting their behavior.

“We want those people to be masked,” Locke added, “and if we succeed in that, then they won’t transmit the infection.”

Jefferson County health officials reported one new coronavirus case Tuesday involving a person in their 30s.

Of the 35 total cases in Jefferson County as of Tuesday, 30 had recovered from their infection.

No new cases were reported Tuesday in Clallam County, which had 33 total cases and 27 recoveries.

No COVID-19 deaths have been reported on the North Olympic Peninsula.

Outbreaks

Unthank said statewide outbreaks, which initially centered around long-term care facilities, were shifting to businesses.

“The spacing, infection control and masking in businesses is incredibly critical to prevent outbreaks at this point,” Unthank said.

Unthank reminded anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 — which include fever, cough and shortness of breath — to get tested by their primary care physician or at one of several walk-in clinics in the county.

Those with symptoms are asked to call ahead.

Unthank said Clallam County is at risk of having a major outbreak like Yakima County, which had 6,326 confirmed COVID-19 cases Tuesday.

“I think our population did a much better job in the beginning of following the stay-at-home order, and I think that’s responsible for a lot of our success,” Unthank said in a telephone interview.

“But we could very easily become like Yakima if we decide to stop to taking distancing seriously.”

While Yakima County has a larger population (250,000) and agricultural base than the North Olympic Peninsula, Locke said COVID-19 outbreaks are expected in Clallam and Jefferson counties.

“We could see outbreaks in places like the mill and in long-term care facilities,” Locke said.

“We are not only at risk of outbreaks, we are expecting to see outbreaks. It’s just a matter of time.”

Locke said the trade-off for an early Phase 3 reopening, which Jefferson County is seeking, is an increased risk of COVID-19 transmission.

“We have to do things that decrease the risk, and that mostly involves masking and distancing,” Locke said.

“I’m also encouraging people at this time of year, any meetings you can do outside are safer than doing them inside.

“So having dinner parties and picnics and things like that outdoors, especially if they’re with friends that you don’t normally mix with, that’s a good way to get an additional margin of safety,” he added.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected] dailynews.com.

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