The North Olympic Peninsula has reached the peak of the omicron variant of COVID-19, but now is not the time to let up on safety protocols, the area’s health officer said.
“Now is actually the riskiest time when it comes to COVID,” said Dr. Allison Berry, the health officer for both Clallam and Jefferson counties. “That’s a big challenge in the public health sphere when many people are tired of this response, but the virus is still very, very much with us and currently overwhelming healthcare systems around the country.
“I do actually think there is light at the end of the tunnel,” she continued. “When we look at epidemiology from around the country and around the world, we are seeing after the omicron peak a dramatic drop-off in infections and the primary reason is it has exhausted its sources. In this last surge, you either got boosted or very likely got infected, and that got you some degree of immunity from omicron.”
Berry said we are likely to see the omicron surge drop very quickly throughout February, with some COVID restrictions possibly lifted in mid-March.
COVID numbers on the peninsula are still very high and will likely continue to be for the next two weeks, Berry said.
In Clallam County, total cases rose to 8,837 over the weekend, while the case rate dropped to 1,829 per 100,000 population. In Jefferson County, total cases rose to 2,371; the county will update its case rate on Friday.
Clallam County also counted another death from COVID this week, an unvaccinated woman in her 60’s, bringing Clallam’s total to 92. Clallam also had 13 more hospitalizations. Among them, seven are in the intensive care unit, three at Olympic Medical Center, and four at hospitals in King and Kitsap counties.
Jefferson County’s total deaths remained at 22 on Monday. Four people were hospitalized with COVID.
“What I want folks to understand when they hear hopeful news about infections peaking is how to interpret that, and the key thing is to think of it as a mountain,” Berry said. “We’ve reached the peak, but we still have to come down the other side before we will see low rates of COVID. The good news is when we look at neighboring jurisdictions, and when we look at other countries, we have seen relatively steep drop-offs and we are hopeful to see that here,” Berry said.
Berry also noted that there is still a critical shortage of take-home COVID tests.
Both the federal and state governments have offered free tests via government websites, but the state has run out of tests to distribute.
“We are unfortunately continuing to see a critical shortage of testing,” Berry said. “Many of the folks may have seen they can order tests online from the federal government, and for a very short period, you could log on and order tests from the Washington State Department of Health. Unfortunately, the Washington tests have all been ordered at this point in time.”
Both state and federal tests take about 7-10 days to be delivered.
The areas hit hardest by the shortage of tests are schools, where the majority of testing is being done in order to keep them open, Berry said. No COVID-19 transmission has occurred in Peninsula schools so far, but they have occurred during high-contact indoor sports, she said.
“Right now we are still able to support all of our schools for testing of symptomatic and exposed kids and teachers, which is how we keep schools open and safe, but in many schools around our region, we are seeing such significant shortage of tests that we are seeing high-risk indoor sports have to go into a pause because of the inability to test those kids,” Berry said.
There are no plans to pause indoor sports in any of the school districts on the peninsula, but that could change at any time, she added.
Reporter Ken Park can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.