COVID cases trending down; precautions urged

Coronavirus cases are trending down in Clallam and Jefferson counties, but health officials are still advising people to take precautions against the spread of the most recent variant.

About 40 percent of the cases being tracked on the North Olympic Peninsula are the BA.5 variant, said Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties. The BA.5 is a subvariant of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, Berry said, although it’s more transmissible and similar in severity to the original coronavirus strain that appeared in 2020.

Alert levels in both counties remained high on Monday, and Clallam County reported an average daily case rate of 29 and a positivity rate of 17.5 percent.

Clallam County has had 13,984 total cases reported since the pandemic began and a case rate of 539 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks, down from 737 per 100,000 last Tuesday.

Jefferson County reported 128 additional cases from July 2-8 and showed a 16 percent positivity rate for the past two weeks.

It has had 4,897 total cases reported since the pandemic began and a case rate of 563 per 100,000 for the past two weeks, down from 715 per 100,000 last Tuesday.

In Clallam County, 60 percent of cases are coming from Port Angeles and roughly 30 percent of reported cases are in individuals ages 65-79.

But data for both counties show cases trending downward, and Berry said Monday there were no hospitalizations in Clallam County and only one in Jefferson County. No new deaths were reported.

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.

While cases are trending downward, Berry said the disease was still worth taking seriously.

“You’ll see a whole range of discussion on this virus,” Berry said, with some dismissing the disease as inconsequential and others exaggerating its impacts.

“The truth is somewhere in the middle,” Berry said. “COVID is a serious virus. There’s no need to panic, but it’s a virus worth taking seriously.”

Berry said vaccinations remain the best way to prevent severe infection and recommended wearing a quality mask when in close quarters.

She said past COVID-19 infections are not showing the same protection against BA.5, and while vaccinated people are still contracting the virus, the vaccines are still effective at preventing severe infection.

Jefferson County, which tracks vaccination status, shows the vast majority of hospitalizations for COVID-19 have been from unvaccinated people and that hospitalizations for fully vaccinated and boosted people is higher for older people, particularly those older than 65.

A second booster shot of COVID-19 vaccines are available to anyone 50 and older and people with certain health conditions, but Berry only recommended the additional shot for those over 65 or for people who are immunosuppressed.

For vaccinated people younger than 65 with a functioning immune system, there wasn’t a lot of data to show a fourth booster making much of an impact, Berry said.

Vaccinations for adults are still widely available from health providers and local pharmacies, Berry said, and the vaccines recently approved for children ages 5 and younger are available at Jefferson Healthcare and Jefferson County Public Health, both in Port Townsend. Vaccine appointments at those two locations are mostly booked through the end of July, Berry said, and vaccinations for young children are being prioritized.

But while COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are trending downward on the North Olympic Peninsula, numbers are growing in Washington state. According to the state Department of Health, there were 777 hospitalizations from June 23-29, the latest available data, and most of the state’s counties remained at high alert levels.

As of July 7, 11 percent of the state’s hospital beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients, according to the department.

Berry said members of the public should remain vigilant about limiting the spread of the virus, wearing quality masks in close quarters and getting vaccinated and boosted.

“The same tools that worked in the past will work for BA.5,” Berry said.