Five new cases of COVID-19 were reported on the North Olympic Peninsula on Tuesday as health officials continued to emphasize the need to wear face masks and use physical distancing to stem further transmission.
Clallam County had four new cases Tuesday and Jefferson County had one, bringing the two-county total to 109.
Two of Clallam County’s new cases — a man in his 50s and a teenage boy — contracted the novel coronavirus at Fourth of July gatherings, matching a trend in recent infections, county Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank said.
“We’ve been running into people who are practicing great infection control at work, or when they go to the grocery store, but then going to parties in the evenings,” Unthank said in a Tuesday interview.
“It doesn’t work. If you only follow infection control part-time, it’s not very effective.”
Two other Clallam County cases involving a man in his 50s and a woman in her 50s brought the county’s case total to 65.
Jefferson County’s coronavirus tally rose to 44 on Tuesday after a man in his 50s tested positive, county Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said.
Most of Jefferson County’s recent cases have involved household members of those who had been infected elsewhere, mainly on the Interstate-5 corridor, Locke said.
Locke and Unthank stressed the need for businesses and individuals to follow public health directives on face coverings and physical distancing.
“All of these things that we all want, like kids back fully in school in the fall, businesses coming back fully — all of that is dependent on us following these infection-control guidelines,” Unthank said.
“If we are all really cautious this summer, we can get more kids back in the classroom. But if we’re not, we are putting that at risk ourselves, so it’s really up to us to make those things happen.”
The Port Angeles School Board has approved a reopening plan that would divide students into two groups with each group attending in-person classes twice a week.
The Port Townsend School District’s preliminary plan also would have students split their time between in-person schooling and remote instruction.
Locke said he would address school reopenings as part of his COVID-19 briefing to the Jefferson County Board of Health on Thursday.
“So much is going to depend on us getting the level of infection down to a point that we can not only open schools, but also keep schools open,” Locke said in a Tuesday interview.
“If we continue to see these kind of surges, it’s just not going to be possible to keep them open.
“My message is the whole community needs to pull together on this,” Locke added.
Local and state health officials have identified a need to improve communication strategies for COVID-19, Locke said.
“There is so much disinformation and misinformation out there that it’s becoming a real problem for controlling an infectious virus,” Locke said.
“There are people who still believe that this is all a hoax, and that not wearing a mask is not only safe but it’s kind of an expression of a constitutional liberty.
“It’s as if there’s this organized national effort to tell people exactly the wrong things, the things that will most put them in jeopardy,” Locke added.
“So we have to counteract that. We don’t want to do it in a partisan way, but we have to confront this anti-science disinformation campaign that is out there and is really standing in our way.”
Masking compliance at Sequim-area stores had risen to more than 90 percent in a recent survey, Unthank said.
Masking compliance was just 40 percent in the Port Angeles area and West End earlier in the pandemic, she said.
Unofficial surveys are being conducted at grocery stores by members of the Clallam County Board of Health and Jefferson County emergency management.
“It definitely has improved in grocery stores,” Locke said of masking compliance.
“Where we’re not seeing good compliance is gas stations and on weekends, on sunny weekends, people are clustering together in public places.”