As Clallam County discovered a new case of COVID-19, its health officer plans to back off on releasing individual case information.
Clallam County’s case total increased to 82 on Monday, July 27, and Jefferson County held at 50 for a 12th straight day, bringing the total number of cases on the North Olympic Peninsula to 132 since March, according to health officials.
Sixty-four cases have recovered in Clallam County, and 37 cases have recovered in Jefferson County.
Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank said Monday she will no longer provide the decade of age of each individual case reported, although ages will be charted weekly and updated each Friday on the Clallam County Health Department website.
“I think we’re probably going to start going off the overall trajectory of ages, as opposed to ages to individual cases,” Unthank said. “It’s just becoming too many cases to track each individual one.
“Some people have identified the individual cases, and we want to be really cautious about that.”
The primary driver for the recent cases in Clallam County has been private gatherings or people who were exposed to others who were at gatherings, leading Unthank to urge people to avoid gatherings when possible.
Many of the newest cases in Clallam County have been tracked to either at a Fourth of July celebration or from people interacting with others who attended those gatherings, Unthank said.
Across the state, the reproduction rate of COVID-19 — the number of new cases that stem from each individual case — appears to be declining. However, it is still more than one, said Dr. Tom Locke, the Jefferson County health officer.
Locke said Jefferson County is not an island, and what happens in the rest of the state — and especially in neighboring counties such as Clallam and Kitsap — does pose a risk of infection numbers going up as people travel.
“We have to do this together, as a region, as a state and as a whole country,” Locke said.
There have been community concerns that the rise in cases should be attributed to the rise in tourism on the Peninsula, but Unthank said only one case of the Clallam County’s total was exposed by a tourist, and the rest were exposed to each other.
“I understand why people are worried about tourists, but because of the way this virus is transmitted, it’s really only transmitted when you’re in close contact with someone for a prolonged period of time,” Unthank said.
“It’s actually really hard to catch this from a tourist, unless you are a friend of the tourist,” she continued. “The tourists really are not the primary drivers of infection.
“The primary driver for infection is people gathering with each other, especially if you’re gathering with people from out of town, having friends over from out of town, or if you’re traveling out of town,” Unthank said. “But we know that virus is very much in our community, so even gathering with people who all live here is a risky activity.”
Health officials tested about 100 people during a free testing drive in Forks on Sunday. Unthank said the results are expected to be returned later this week.
Mask compliance rising
Both counties have been seeing rising levels of mask-wearing compliance in public spaces. Willie Bence, the Jefferson County Department of Emergency Management director, said a recent survey his team conducted saw 96 people in stores, and all were properly wearing masks, he said Monday.
In Clallam County, Unthank said surveys have shown about 95 percent mask compliance in the Sequim and Port Angeles areas, and she’s working on organizing a survey in Forks.
Locke emphasized the need for people to depoliticize the virus and take masking, social distancing and other health measures seriously.
“This is a tiny RNA virus that doesn’t care about [political views],” Locke said.
Both health officers are working with local school districts on the start of the fall school year, and both said the next two to three weeks will be crucial in determining whether or not it will be safe to have in-classroom instruction.
Unthank said she believes it could be safe enough if the counties are under 25 cases per 100,000 per two weeks, and Clallam is close to that with 26, she said.