Regional health officer urges individuals to decide to wear masks

While state masking mandates are set to be lifted on March 12, the North Olympic Peninsula’s health officer encourages residents to decide to wear masks indoors in public places until at least March 21.

“I can say this announcement came as a bit of a surprise to us,” said Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, referring to health officers statewide.

“I would say I’m concerned about it,” she added. “The CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) mask guidance has very high threshold cutoffs, which I do think will increase the probability that we will see either a plateauing in case rates that are relatively high or another surge.

“I don’t plan to expand the health order just for Jefferson and Clallam counties because I just don’t think it’s tenable to do so, but I do strongly recommend that our citizens continue to mask at least until the 21st,” Berry said.

Both Clallam and Jefferson County’s case rates continue to drop.

Clallam’s current case rate is 450 cases per 100,000 population during the past two weeks. It added 46 new cases over the weekend, bringing total case numbers since the pandemic began from 10,711 to 10,757.

Jefferson County’s case rate was updated Friday to 525 per 100,000 cases during the past two weeks. It added 36 new cases over the weekend to bring the total case numbers from 3,030 to 3,066 since the pandemic began.

Masks will still be required in medical, long-term care and correctional facilities as well as public transportation.

Public school distircts can make their own regulations, acoridng to the governor’s office, and more guidance is expected from the state in a few days.

Private business owners will be allowed to request that customers and employees wear masks to protect vulnerable customers and staff.

One of the big concerns is for hospitals, Berry said.

“Our hospitals are just barely coming out of a critical time,” she said. “They’re not even all the way out of it, so in Clallam and Jefferson, we’re still in the high-risk category.

“So the worry is that this may cause back-to-back stress on our hospitals,” Berry said.

Eight Clallam County residents were reported hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday. Three were at Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles, and two were in the intensive care unit (ICU). The other five residents were in hospitals out of the county.

Four Jefferson County residents were reported hospitalized with COVID-19, one in the ICU at Jefferson Healthcare in Port Townsend, another in OMC’s ICU and the remaining two in hospitals outside the county.

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Reporter Ken Park can be reached at kpark@peninsuladailynews.com.

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