COVID case rates decreasing, but flu cases are here

COVID-19 case rates may be trending down on the North Olympic Peninsula, but influenza is beginning to show up.

“We are just starting to see the flu circulate in our region,” said Dr. Allison Berry, the health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties. “We have had less than five cases so far, which is a lot fewer cases than normal.”

The state Department of Health reported three deaths from the flu on Wednesday. All three were people older than 65.

“Last season, flu activity was historically low, likely due to increased COVID-19 precautions, such as mask-wearing, remote learning, occupancy limits and work from home measures taken during the pandemic,” the Department of Health said in a press release. “The last time Washington reported a flu-related death was during the 2019-2020 flu season when there were 114 influenza-associated deaths, including 36 deaths at this point in the year.”

Berry said the best defense to protect against the flu is to get the seasonal vaccination. She also recommended people continue to wear face masks.

“Flu vaccinations are widely available right now and a big part of the low rates over the last few years has been masking,” she said.

There are concerns each year about the effectiveness of the flu vaccine, Berry said. Due to the low rates of flu infection, it’s too early to tell the efficacy of this year’s shot, she added.

Meanwhile, COVID case rates continue to fall, even as case numbers rise as the Peninsula crests over the peak of the omicron variant.

Despite Wednesday’s bump in data from the state, Clallam County has seen its case rate fall to 1,617 per 100,000 population in the past two weeks. Total cases since the pandemic began rose to 9,072, up 147 cases from Wednesday’s 8,925.

In Jefferson County, COVID cases rose from 2,453 to 2,486, an increase of 33.

Jefferson County’s case rate is at 1,397 per 100,000 for the past two weeks. It updates its case rate weekly on Fridays.

Fifteen Clallam County residents were hospitalized with the COVID on Thursday, eight at Olympic Medical Center and seven out of the county.

Six of the seven are in intensive care units.

Three were hospitalized Thursday at Jefferson Healthcare, with one in the ICU.

No additional deaths were reported in either county.

Berry said the Department of Health is beginning to consider lifting the proof-of-vaccination mandate as case rates begin to decline.

“We looking to get closer to 200 per 100,000 cases before lifting that mandate, which should happen sometime in mid-March,” she said.

In terms of lifting masking mandates, that’s a bit more complicated.

“We are still trying to figure out and get guidance on that front,” Berry said. “We learned from the past that lifting the masking restriction can be dangerous. We really don’t want to see another spike in cases again.”

When some masking restrictions were lifted last June, the peninsula saw a significant spike in COVID cases, she said.