Two on Peninsula die from COVID-19

Cases rising in both counties’ classrooms

Two North Olympic Peninsula residents have died from COVID-19, breaking a weeks-long streak of no deaths from the virus in the region while the national toll from the virus neared 1 million.

Three people were hospitalized with the virus on the Peninsula as of Friday, including a child younger than 5.

One of the deceased was a Jefferson County resident in his 70s whose vaccination status and health status were not immediately known. He died in a hospital out of state, where he likely contracted the virus, according to Clallam and Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry.

“We, unfortunately, do not have a lot of information about him,” Berry said. “We had the death certificate forwarded to us from out of state. But we have confirmed he was a Jefferson County resident.”

The other was a Clallam County man in his 60s who was vaccinated and boosted but had severe underlying health issues that contributed to his death.

The death toll since the pandemic began is 112 in Clallam County and 29 in Jefferson County.

Rising cases

Cases continue to rise across the Peninsula.

Clallam County reported a case rate of 561 per 100,000 population on Friday, with a total of 11,982 cases reported since the pandemic began.

Jefferson County reported a case rate of 646 per 100,000 population on Friday with a total of 3,704 cases reported since the pandemic began.

However, the actual case rates are likely higher than those recorded, Berry said Tuesday.

She figures that health officials are catching about half of the cases on the Peninsula.

In any case, both counties are far beyond the state threshold of 200 cases per 100,000 for high-risk.

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.

Hospitalizations

Two Clallam County residents are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Both are at Olympic Medical Center with one being younger than 5.

“Unfortunately, that is an age group that we do expect due to lack of vaccination,” Berry said.

Berry noted that neither county has had many pediatric cases of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic.

Neither the child nor the adult patient is in an intensive care unit.

One Jefferson County resident is currently hospitalized with COVID-19 at Jefferson Healthcare.

School cases

School districts across the Peninsula have reported new cases, and masking has become mandated at some.

On Thursday, the Sequim School District said six more classes would be joining the two the district had previously identified as a potential concern for in-school transmission of the virus at Sequim Middle School.

“The two classes (88 students) were joined by six more classes today, which produced a dramatic change in our potential exposures,” said Sonja Bittner, a Sequim School District nurse.

The district sent home rapid antigen tests to those classes and encouraged families to test their children who may have been exposed to the virus.

On Friday, the Chimacum School District sent a notice to families that at least 15 students in its high school had tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the district to adopt a temporary masking mandate until May 20.

“Last weekend we had multiple student exposures to COVID-19 that resulted in a substantial number of COVID-19 cases,” Chimacum School District Superintendent Scott Mauk said.

“Because the number of students exposed to these positive cases is so high, potential cases are no longer traceable,” he added.

“We are under direct order from the county health officer to require indoor masking for all people in the Junior/Senior High School.”

Mauk said the Chimacum cases likely stemmed from the recent high school prom.

Port Angeles School District, while not mandating masking, is strongly encouraging it in indoor spaces.

“I do think we are likely going to see more schools have to return to mandatory masking in the coming weeks just due to the sheer amount of transmission we are seeing in schools,” Berry said.

Berry is encouraging parents to get high-quality masks for their school-age kids.

As far as a wider public masking mandate, Berry says there is not currently a plan to re-implement the mandatory mandate, despite cases continuing to rise.

“We are not planning to return to a mandate in the county and state as a whole, but schools seem to be a particularly challenging space right now,” Berry said.

National reports

President Joe Biden on Thursday marked the approaching milestone of 1 million U.S. deaths in the coronavirus pandemic with an order for flags at the White House and other public buildings to be flown at half-staff.

“One million empty chairs around the dinner table. Each an irreplaceable loss,” he said in a statement. “Each leaving behind a family, a community, and a nation forever changed because of this pandemic.

“We must remain vigilant against this pandemic and do everything we can to save as many lives as possible, as we have with more testing, vaccines and treatments than ever before.”

In its latest update on Saturday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the COVID-19 death toll at 997,083.

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Reporter Ken Park can be reached at [email protected].

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