Small clusters found in schools

Masks recommended in indoor settings

Two clusters of COVID-19-positive cases have been identified in North Olympic Peninsula schools, health officials reported.

The clusters — cases of three each — are in one school in Clallam County and one in Jefferson County, Dr. Allison Berry said Monday.

Berry, the health officer for both Peninsula counties, also confirmed small clusters in one long-term care center in each county.

A birthday party was the source of one of the school clusters, Berry said, although no additional transmission has been identified from the classroom settings.

“We’re doing frequent testing, masking for the kids in the exposed classrooms, and so far we haven’t seen any more spread in those classrooms,” Berry told the Board of Jefferson County Commissioners during her weekly update.

In the long-term care centers, Berry said the additional cases also have been limited because everyone has been vaccinated and received a booster.

“We’ve been able to get to them relatively quickly,” she said. “We are hopeful we’re not going to see severe disease out of those cases.”

Jefferson County remained in the state’s high-risk category on Monday with a case rate of 357 per 100,000 population as of Friday, prompting Berry’s recommendation for the use of masks in indoor spaces.

Jefferson County reported 24 new cases between Friday and Monday and has recorded 3,398 total cases since the beginning of the pandemic with 28 total deaths. No new deaths were reported Monday, and one person who was hospitalized last week has since been discharged, Berry said.

Clallam County reported 64 new cases over the weekend and had a case rate of 178 per 100,000 on Monday, registering in the state’s moderate-risk category. There have been 11,271 total cases in the county since the pandemic began with 111 total deaths. There were no deaths or hospitalizations due to the disease on Monday.

Case rates are a reflection of cases reported during a two-week period. They are computed using a formula based on 100,000 population even for counties that do not have 100,000 people living in them.

Berry said between 70 percent and 90 percent of the new cases in Jefferson County are being reported from at-home antigen tests. Home reports in Clallam County are only about 30 percent of new cases.

“We do think we are seeing a little more transmission in Jefferson than Clallam,” she said.

Masking will continue to be a recommendation while case rates are higher than 100 per 100,000, but it won’t become a mandate unless there is an increase in severe disease and death, Berry said.

Vaccine effectiveness

Berry said the additional benefit for a second booster shot — or a fourth in the series — isn’t needed for most of the population right now.

“What we do see is that it does decrease your risk for about four weeks, but it doesn’t dramatically change the protection against severe disease,” she said. “That’s why we haven’t pushed the fourth booster so much.”

She also dispelled a myth about the effectiveness of the shots, saying the measure is not weighed against contracting the virus.

“When you see headlines in newspapers, you have to have to ask, ‘Effective against what?’” she said. “Effectiveness against severe disease, hospitalization and death has continued to be excellent.

“(The vaccines) still reduce your risk, but they don’t make it zero.”

Neither does contracting COVID-19.

“One of the myths we’re seeing right now is that getting COVID once provides lifetime immunity, and that’s just not true,” she said.

“Your prevention from getting it again lasts about 90 days.”

She also addressed a question about masking indoors.

“Some indoor spaces are riskier than others,” Berry said. “If there are tight quarters, shoulder to shoulder, that’s a pretty high-risk space. Certainly a space where COVID-19 can spread.”

In contrast, a smaller restaurant with about 10 tables, a good ventilation system and workers who are vaccinated and boosted would have less risk, she said.

Berry still recommends isolation and masking for 10 days after a positive test — 20 days for someone who is immunocompromised — but added it’s common after a viral infection for a cough to remain for a while.

“Thirty percent of us are still contagious at day six,” she said. “It’s really important we don’t walk into that bar and spread that virus.”

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Managing editor Brian McLean can be reached by email at [email protected]

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