County virus numbers not following state trend

Peninsula remains in low to moderate risk

Jefferson County confirmed one new case of COVID-19 on Monday, while Clallam County held with no new cases.

While the North Olympic Peninsula has been spared from a substantial rise in case numbers in recent weeks, Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke and Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank are concerned about the rising numbers statewide.

“The more COVID-19 is transmitting around us, the harder it is for us to keep our numbers low,” Unthank said. “The good news is, we’ve done well so far.

“I think our citizens have shown that it is possible to keep our numbers low if you take guidance seriously and make smart decisions, but we’re going to have to be particularly cautious as we move into the fall and winter with cases rising around us,” she continued.

“So, being very stringent in following the guidelines and also limiting travel as much as possible.”

Jefferson County’s case rate is at about 25 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks as of Monday, while Clallam County’s case rate is 28 per 100,000 for same time period.

Jefferson County is in the state’s low-risk category while Clallam County is in the moderate-risk category.

In comparison, the state’s case rate as of Thursday was 112.4 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior, with some larger counties having higher rates. Spokane County was at 217.8 per 100,000 for the same time period, according to the state’s COVID-19 risk assessment dashboard.

The state has had a 20 percent increase in case numbers during the past two weeks, with slight increases in hospitalizations and deaths, Locke said during his Monday morning briefing with the Board of Jefferson County Commissioners.

Keeping case numbers down is critical for keeping schools open, Locke said.

“All these sacrifices we’ve been making, what we get for that is open schools,” he said. “We are at a real crucial period right now for the pandemic.

“The risk is going to go up and up for the next three to four months.”

Neither Locke nor Unthank support the idea of lifting mitigation measures such as wearing face masks and social distancing in favor of allowing for widespread transmission of COVID-19 to promote herd immunity to end the pandemic sooner, as some politicians have suggested.

“If you did nothing, (the pandemic) would end sooner, but the results would be catastrophic,” Locke said.

Unthank added: “The herd immunity theory is really not a widely accepted theory in medicine when it comes to a virus that’s this dangerous.

“What we would see if we tried to move towards a herd immunity level would be really kind of unimaginable levels of numbers of deaths in our community,” she said.

Public health experts do not support the theory, and it’s been primarily proposed by people who are not educated in the field of public health and epidemiology, Unthank said.

“We don’t think it’s safe to move towards herd immunity,” she said. “We did the numbers for our community, and it would be well over 1,000 deaths in Clallam County alone if we tried to do that.

“The good news is, we do have ways to control it. They’re hard, they’re frustrating, but we can do it and meet up on the other side once people are vaccinated, and we won’t have lost as many of our citizens.”

Clallam County has confirmed 286 cases of COVID-19 since March, with 11 active cases, two patients currently hospitalized and one death, according to county public health data.

Jefferson County has confirmed 89 cases of COVID-19 since March, with at least four active cases and no deaths, Locke said.