Health officer: Illnesses moving in ‘right direction’

The winter surge of COVID-19 cases is declining, but the disease is still circulating and has caused two deaths in Clallam County this year, the health officer for the North Olympic Peninsula said.

Dr. Allison Berry, the health officer for both Clallam and Jefferson counties, said disease rates for COVID-19, RSV and influenza are declining both locally and nationally.

She told the Board of Jefferson County Commissioners on Feb. 5 that the respiratory diseases “are moving in the right direction but are still elevated in terms of what we would normally see.”

Jefferson County is seeing about one hospitalization per week from COVID-19 and has recorded one death for the year, Berry said.

Clallam County has reported two deaths in 2024 after 22 were recorded last year, she said.

“COVID-19 is less severe now than it was in the darkest days of the pandemic. It was a catastrophic event three years ago,” Berry said.

“But it is still serious, and it is more serious than other respiratory diseases.”

Tracking statistics

Health departments are monitoring emergency room visits and hospitalizations and they are tracking widespread transmission levels of COVID-19, but Berry said there are better treatments available in addition to increased community resistance to the disease than in past years.

However, Berry said those who are immunocompromised are still at risk, including the elderly and those undergoing chemotherapy.

Health agencies expect to see elevated rates of respiratory disease for at least another month, Berry said, as long as cold weather remains. There is still some circulation of COVID-19 during summer months, but the highest rates of respiratory illness occur between November and April, Berry said.

The state Department of Health said respiratory illness made up 5% of emergency room visits and 4% of hospitalizations statewide in January.

Berry has been providing regular updates during commissioners’ meetings for several years, but on Feb. 5, Jefferson County District 3 Commissioner Greg Brotherton asked if the in-person updates are still needed.

Berry said her updates have been receiving fewer questions from the public and weekly written reports are still available.

“Not to say that COVID is gone or that we don’t care about it; we do,” Berry said.

“But folks have come to understand COVID better. People have a better understanding than they used to.”