While the North Olympic Peninsula was spared from new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, local health officials are urging residents to continue to follow health guidelines as the state’s numbers continue to rise.
According to state Department of Health officials, numbers across Washington are climbing in regard to both case numbers and hospitalizations, with higher numbers in Western Washington than in Eastern Washington.
While Jefferson County has had school districts operating in hybrid online/in-person instruction since September and Clallam County districts started phasing in grade levels earlier this month, spikes in COVID-19 cases have put other school openings in the state on hold.
“Any spike in COVID-19 cases will jeopardize our progress toward reopening schools, strain our health care system and increase risks during holiday gatherings,” said Lacy Fehrenbach, state deputy secretary of health for COVID-19 response, in a press release.
“High rates in the community increase the chance that someone at your gathering — even people you know well and trust — could have COVID-19. If we act now, we can get these increases in control in time for the holidays.”
The reproduction numbers — the number of infected people stemming from one confirmed case — were 1.34 in western Washington and 1.12 in eastern Washington as of Oct. 10, and the number needs to be well below one for numbers to be considered decreasing.
Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke worries that the Peninsula will see a rise in cases as is being reported elsewhere in the state.
“Unfortunately, I expect (case numbers) to increase on the Olympic Peninsula as well. We can’t let down our guard at this point,” Locke said.
“The danger of not controlling (virus spread) is what it’s been all along, and that is we’ll overwhelm our medical care systems and we’ll also have to start dialing back some of the business and activity openings, which we don’t want to do.”
An increase in case numbers depends on how well residents take the pandemic seriously, said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.
“I think (an increase) will certainly depend on us,” Unthank said. “We certainly are seeing significant case rates rising across the state and across the county.
“In many states, we’re seeing hospitals getting overrun again, but there are pockets where that’s not happening.
“We as a community can choose to be one of those pockets, but that will involve continuing to follow the COVID-19 safety guidelines locally and being particularly thoughtful about travel,” she continued.
“Making sure we’re not traveling out of county unless we absolutely have to, and if we do, being very thoughtful about safety guidelines when we’re there.”
Case numbers seem to be rising due to personal gatherings, and Locke is urging residents to avoid gatherings when possible. If people do gather, they should continue to wear face masks inside and practice social distancing, even when with close friends and family if they live outside one’s household, he said.
Locke expects the next few months to be the most difficult of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying it will be an uphill battle. But, after the winter months are over, the pandemic should ease with vaccines starting to be distributed and case numbers going down.
“Step by step, we’ll see the end of the pandemic, but people want to believe that this is all over — people running for office are trying to tell people that this it’s all over — and we’re in the middle of things now,” Locke said. “We’re not in the beginning, we’re not at the end, we’re right at the middle.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do in the next three to sixth months to get through this winter surge — especially the next three months — and then we’ll likely be on the downhill run.”
Clallam County has confirmed 284 cases of COVID-19 since March, with 13 active cases and one death, according to Clallam County Public Health data.
Jefferson County has confirmed 87 cases of COVID-19 since March, with three active cases and no deaths, Locke said.