COVID-19 cases are being confirmed in all indoor spaces across the North Olympic Peninsula as case numbers continue to climb during the fifth wave of infection, said the region’s public health official.
“Truly cases are in nearly every indoor environment at this point,” said Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Jefferson and Clallam counties.
“We’ve had positive cases come from grocery stores, from restaurants, from office buildings, from social gatherings, from churches. Certainly we’ve had cases in our prison systems, cases in our long-term care facilities,” she said.
“If you go to an indoor environment and you are unvaccinated and unmasked, you are in incredibly high risk of getting COVID-19.”
Berry started her Friday COVID-19 response briefing with the above statement, highlighting that no specific indoor environment is the main source of transmission of the virus on the Peninsula at this point.
On Friday, Clallam County confirmed 15 new COVID-19 cases, raising its case rate to a new record high of 466 cases per 100,000 population for the last two weeks as of Friday.
A total of 2,122 cases have been confirmed in Clallam County since the pandemic began, according to county public health data.
Jefferson County confirmed seven new COVID-19 cases on Friday, raising its total to 630 cases since the pandemic began, according to county public health data.
Jefferson County reports its case rates weekly. The county recorded its highest case rate so far on Aug. 14 at 235.11 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior and the new case rate will be calculated on Monday.
Neither county updates their data over the weekend.
The rapid rise in COVID-19 cases seen on the Peninsula and statewide over the last month — stemming from the spread of the more contagious delta variant — has caused officials to re-implement the mitigation measures of mandatory mask wearing, with the statewide masking mandate announced by Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday going into effect on Monday.
Berry enacted a similar masking order for Jefferson and Clallam counties last Monday, requiring everyone 5 and older to wear a face mask when inside a public space and not currently eating or drinking.
Health officials are working with schools to on their reopening plans, as the large amount of virus activity is concerning, but Berry is dedicated to keeping schools open in person and keeping them as safe as possible for students and staff, she said.
“We’ve never tried to open schools with the case levels we have right now,” Berry said. “It’s critically important as we plan for the fall that we do everything we can to make schools safe and keep schools open.
“I’m committed to keeping the schools open as we move into the fall. I think we really saw last year just how much damage was done by closing the schools and that that damage was disproportionately born by the poor and by working mothers,” she continued.
“I think we need to find a way to keep the schools open and I think we can do it well. Given what we saw last year, we can — with appropriate precautions — keep from transmitting COVID-19 in our schools. It’s going be a lift.”
Berry has received multiple questions surrounding the need for wearing a face mask if someone is fully vaccinated; she compares it to the rules of driving a car.
People who drive safely wear seat belts, read and follow road signs and drive the speed limit. However, wrecks still happen, sometimes due to no fault of the driver. Protections are not 100 percent effective in preventing harm, but harm is less likely and usually less severe if people follow precautions.
“It’s the same idea with masks and vaccines,” Berry said. “You have to do all the things because nothing is 100 percent but you’re much much safer if you wear a mask and if you are vaccinated.
“If you’re going into indoor spaces unmasked and unvaccinated, it’s pretty much equivalent to driving down the highway at 95 and ignoring all the signs with your seat belt off. It’s a dangerous thing to do.”
Berry continues to urge all residents 12 and older to get vaccinated for COVID-19 as soon as possible.
Officials expect Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to have expanded approval for residents 5 and older in October.
Data compiled by the state Department of Health shows that, in Jefferson County, 76 percent of residents 12 and older have initiated vaccinations, 72.6 percent are fully vaccinated, and 69.9 percent of the total population has started vaccinations, and 66.7 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the state’s dashboard.
Clallam County has vaccinated 66.7 percent of residents 12 and older with at least one dose, with 61.7 percent fully vaccinated, while 59.2 percent of the total population has begun vaccinations with 54.8 percent fully vaccinated, according to the state’s dashboard.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected]