Smoke prompts health concerns on Peninsula

COVID-19 case totals remain steady

No new COVID-19 cases were confirmed on the North Olympic Peninsula on Tuesday for the fourth consecutive day.

Clallam County’s case rate has dropped to 30 cases per 100,000 population for the past two weeks, and Jefferson County’s is 12.3 per 100,000 for the same period, county health officers said.

Clallam County continues to be in the state’s moderate-risk category with a case rate between 25 and 75, and Jefferson County is in the low-risk category.

“The hard thing about interpreting [the case rate] is that we won’t see any Labor Day bumps for at least a week,” said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer. “So we can’t get too excited just yet, but it is certainly very hopeful.”

The Peninsula is seeing high levels of smoke due to wildfires in Eastern Washington. On Tuesday, air quality pollution peaked in the “very unhealthy” range in Clallam County and the “unhealthy” range in Jefferson County.

Unthank was concerned, as smoke inhalation can make people more susceptible to such respiratory diseases as COVID-19, and can increase transmission rates by causing people to cough.

“What we recommend is people stay inside as much as possible and keep their windows closed, keep your blinds closed to try and keep things not too hot,” Unthank said.

“The challenge is that is the opposite of what we tell people to do with COVID-19.

“We’ve been saying open your windows, go outside, but really, when it’s smokey, we do actually want you to stay inside and as much as possible stay inside your own home, not going to a place where you’d be meeting up with other people until things can lighten up a little bit,” she continued. “We do know that smoke exposure does increase your susceptibility to COVID-19, and likely increases your ability to transmit it as well, as it makes you more likely to cough and sneeze.”

Unthank hoped the smoke will clear soon, since it was blown in rather than originating on the Peninsula.

“As much as we care about COVID-19 — goodness knows we talk about it a lot — we also care about other things that affect your health, including smoke, so it is important that you prioritize staying indoors,” Unthank said.

In Jefferson County, Brinnon, Chimacum and Port Townsend School Districts have begun classes in-person using a hybrid model, while Quilcene and Clallam County school districts started online.

“I think the schools are very well prepared,” said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.

Locke said students or staff with any COVID-19 symptoms are not allowed to be in the classroom until either 24 hours after their symptoms have resolved, if they test negative for COVID-19, or more than 10 days after symptom onset, if the test is positive.

If the case rate stays in the moderate category or lower in Clallam County this month, Unthank hopes the school districts might be able to start having students back in classrooms in some form starting in early October.

“We are making plans — if we can maintain these rates of virus transmission — how we move kids slowly and safely back into the classroom,” Unthank said.

“I think everybody is hoping to make sure the numbers stay low, because I think all of us want to see kids safely in school as soon as possible.

“I think one thing we’re learning with COVID-19 is that is really is a zero sum game, that, if you want to do other higher-risk activities or have more connections, like send kids to school, then we have to reduce risks in other parts of our lives.”

Clallam County has had 221 cases of COVID-19 since March, with 207 cases recovered and one death, Clallam County Public Health data show.

Jefferson County has had 70 cases of COVID-19 since March, with 56 cases recovered and no deaths, Jefferson County Public Health Data show.

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

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