State health officers weigh metrics for lifting mask mandates

Unknown when it will be safe to stop health measure

Health Officers across the state are getting closer to identifying metrics that would allow the lifting of masking mandates, according to the North Olympic Peninsula’s public health officer.

The specific conditions that would indicate it is safe to unmask could be decided as early as next week, according to Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties.

It is unknown when those conditions for lifting masking mandates would be reached.

“I think we all empathize with the challenge the governor is facing,” Berry said Friday of her weekly meeting with the state’s health officers.

“In these meetings, we review data around cases, hospitalizations, deaths, and efficacy of various mitigation measures. We also talk about the needs of our communities throughout the state and the challenges of maintaining these orders that largely rely on voluntary compliance,” she said.

COVID-19 case rates continue to drop across the state and the Peninsula.

Jefferson County’s case rate dropped well below 1,000 cases per 100,000 population for the first time since the omicron variant hit in late November. On Friday, in its weekly update of the case rate, Jefferson County reported 742 cases per 100,000, down from 1,068 cases per 100,000 reported a week earlier.

Clallam County’s case rate is also in a slow decline, dropping from 1,255 cases per 100,000 population on Thursday to 1,224 cases per 100,000 on Friday.

Case rates are the reflection of cases reported over a two-week period. They are computed using a formula based on 100,000 population, even for counties — such as Clallam and Jefferson — that do not have 100,000 population.

Jefferson County on Friday reported 131 people with COVID-19 in active isolation.

Clallam County does not report that metric but does report a daily average of 66 new cases over the past two weeks.

Jefferson County as of Friday added 13 new cases, bringing its total number of cases since the pandemic began to 2,828.

Clallam added 91 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, bringing its total since the pandemic began to 10,316.

Hospitalization rates on the Peninsula are showing some decline.

On Friday, no new COVID-19 patients were reported at Jefferson Healthcare hospital in Port Townsend. Three county residents were hospitalized with the virus outside the county, two of them in intensive care units.

“The number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 has been fairly consistent throughout the omicron surge: between two to four patients daily,” said Amy Yaley, hospital spokesperson.

“As COVID activity decreases in the community, we expect hospitalizations due to COVID to decrease with it.”

Twelve Clallam County residents were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Friday. Eight were at Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles with two in OMC’s ICU and four in ICUs outside the county.

Also on Friday, the state Department of Health announced that WA Verify, the state’s digital COVID-19 verification record system, had reached a milestone.

It had generated more than 1 million QR codes for Washington residents so that they can provide digital proof of their COVID-19 vaccination status.

To use the tool, go to WA Verify at https://waverify.doh.wa.gov/.

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

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