COVID case rates starting to drop

Despite continued high transmission levels on the Peninsula, COVID-19 case rates are beginning to decline, signaling the transition into the endemic phase, according to regional health officials.

“Cases are starting to plateau nationally and across the state, and we are seeing the case rate start to decline on the Peninsula,” said Dr. Allison Berry, the health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties.

Clallam County has added 351 new cases since June 1, bringing its total from 12,653 to 13,004 cases.

Jefferson County has added 129 new cases, bringing its total from 4,082 to 4,211 cases.

Both counties saw declines in their case rates. Clallam’s rate declined by 200 from 850 cases per 100,000 population in the past two weeks to 650 per 100,000, and Jefferson’s declined by 18 from 857 cases per 100,000 to 839 per 100,000.

Case rates are a reflection of cases reported during a two-week period. They are computed using a formula based on 100,000 population even for counties that do not have 100,000 people living in them.

“What makes us different from the rest of the country is that we are not seeing a surge in hospitalization, and that is likely due to our high rates of vaccination,” Berry said Monday during the Board of Jefferson County Commissioners’ meeting.

Berry appeared at the meeting via zoom en route to a meeting of health officers in Seattle.

Three Clallam County residents were hospitalized Monday with COVID-19. There were no Jefferson County residents hospitalized with the virus.

No new deaths were reported in either county.

At least 75 percent of eligible Clallam County residents are fully vaccinated with 70 percent having had at least one vaccination.

Nearly 76 percent of eligible Jefferson County residents have been fully vaccinated with at least 83 percent having had at least one vaccination.

Deputy Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke echoed Dr. Berry’s comments on the shift from pandemic to endemic.

“COVID-19 is still in the category of a pandemic, but it is taking on features of an endemic phase,” he said.

“It’s never going to go away but could become more like the flu and change as the immunity of the population changes,” Locke said.

One of the contributing factors to the high rates of transmission is increased travel and the lifting of masking restrictions on public transportation.

Both Berry and Locke recommend masking in indoor spaces, especially when in places with poor ventilation such as airplanes, trains and buses and in areas with high rates of transmission.

“One thing to think about is the fact that you are sharing air in these confined spaces with poor ventilation for long a stretch of time,” Locke said. “I highly recommend masking up when traveling.”

Berry and Locke also noted a shift in the public views on masking since mandates were lifted in most public spaces in March.

Berry noted to the Jefferson County Commissioners that there is less pressure to wear a mask to protect others because of the availability of vaccines and treatments for COVID-19 that did not exist early in the pandemic.

“We don’t have as stringent precautions in place because we know so much more about the virus, but we still encourage masking in indoor spaces,” Berry said.

“The burden has been placed more on people to protect themselves if they are at higher risk,” Locke said.