Peninsula-wide mask mandate starts Monday

Major surge in cases now; primarily younger people affected

A universal masking mandate will go into effect Monday for all indoor spaces in Clallam and Jefferson counties, health officer Dr. Allison Berry announced Friday during a public briefing on the widespread surge in COVID-19.

The order applies to everyone age 5 and older, while masks are recommended but not required for children age 2 to 5.

“Our primary tools are vaccinations and masks,” Berry said in her half-hour briefing, which can be found at http://www.clallam.net/features/meetings.html under “Miscellaneous Meeting Recordings.”

“We recommend a two-ply mask that fits your face well,” she said, while “generally, surgical masks are a good option,” as are cloth masks with two layers. An N95 mask is appropriate for high-risk activities such as airplane travel, Berry added.

The new masking order applies to government facilities, schools and all businesses including restaurants.

People entering restaurants will be required to wear masks when walking to and from their tables. Removing one’s mask while seated at a table is permitted, but people are urged to keep masks on whenever their servers come to their tables, Berry said in a phone interview Friday.

“The servers are exposed to a lot, so anything we can do to minimize exposure is good,” she said.

In outdoor settings where large groups gather, masks are recommended but not required, Berry added.

An exception to the indoor masking order is for employees of businesses and government agencies who are fully vaccinated and working alone in their offices or at their workstations. If workers are not interacting with other employees or with members of the public, and if their workstation is at least 6 feet from other people, they can remove their face coverings.

The state will continue requiring all students and employees of K-12 schools to wear masks when instruction resumes for the upcoming school year. That mandate for schools is statewide and not up to local jurisdictions, Gov. Jay Inslee has said. Inslee also recommends that everyone mask up indoors in public places.

The North Olympic Peninsula is in the midst of a major surge dominated by the coronavirus’ Delta variant.

During the past week, Clallam County saw 119 people test positive while Jefferson County reported 27 people newly diagnosed with COVID-19.

On Saturday, Berry reported 24 more people in Clallam County were found to be infected since the previous day. The sources of the new cases include a large birthday party, a daycare center, a long-term care facility and another church in addition to those where outbreaks have already occurred.

The two counties together have reported 2,543 cases — 1,962 in Clallam and 581 in Jefferson — since the pandemic response began in March 2020.

Twenty-two people have died.

Cases are weighted among younger people: In Clallam County, people age 20 to 29 form the most-infected group, with some 325 cases. In Jefferson County, 119 people age 19 and younger have been documented with COVID-19 infection.

Clallam’s case rate has hit 346 per 100,000, while Jefferson’s most recent reported rate is 197.49 per 100,000 people.

“The No. 1 thing we can do,” Berry said, is get immunized immediately.

This is not a “personal health decision” as some have called it.

“You get vaccinated not just for you … It is something we do to protect our community.”

The vaccine is safe for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, Berry noted, and it has no effect on women’s or men’s fertility.

To protect the babies and children in our lives who aren’t eligible for COVID-19 vaccination, adults and teens should get their shots, she emphasized.

Masking, at the same time, is another measure that can reduce the spread of the virus and thus help businesses stay open. Wearing a good mask when walking into local shops, restaurants and agencies is something nearly everyone can do; medical exemptions are rare, Berry said.

The Delta variant, more contagious than the virus that appeared in 2020, is circulating throughout both counties, Berry said. She urged anyone — whatever their age — who feels sick to get tested right away for COVID-19, vaccinated or not.

Anybody who is exposed to COVID-19 but does not immediately have symptoms should be tested five days after exposure, Berry added.

Yet “it is not too late,” Berry said, and those who put on a mask today can be part of a dramatic reduction in risk to the community at large.

________

Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected] news.com.

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

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