Health officers: ‘Difficult phase’ of pandemic ahead

Nationally, there are signs that the “second wave” of COVID-19 infections is beginning — especially in the Midwestern states — and as fall continues on to winter, conditions for the virus to spread will become more favorable, North Olympic Peninsula health officers said.

“Now is not the time to give up or let up,” Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer, said last week.

“We are heading into the most difficult phase of this, but we’ll get through it.”

He and Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer, are urging residents to continue to follow COVID-19 prevention protocols such as mask wearing and social distancing to avoid the rising case numbers seen elsewhere in the state and the nation.

“We think that once we’re over the winter hump and into the spring, and certainly into next summer, it will be a very changed picture,” Locke said.

“But right now, that’s not where we’re at. We’re at the time where we have to make the most serious effort that we’ve ever made to control this in the months ahead.

“This is going to be sort of the decisive series of battles of the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re really going to occur between November and February.”

One way to stay safer is keeping social circles small and stay outside when possible, Unthank said.

“You have to keep your social circle small, which doesn’t mean that it has to be zero,” Unthank said. “For most people, you can pick a small circle of friends who are the continuous people that you see.

“We recommend you keep that at five or smaller, and that those are your quarantine buddies or your bubble throughout the pandemic.

“If you do that, you can still have meaningful interactions and continue those social connections; it just needs to be a very small group of people.”

Meanwhile, state officials plan to discuss the idea of reactivating phased re-openings, which have been on pause since mid-July due to an eruption of COVID-19 cases.

A statewide conference call between county health officers and the state secretary of health was expected to take place this early this week, Locke said.

The officials will evaluate where they are and determine the next steps toward the state’s four-phase plan.

Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee approved some counties stuck in Phase 1 to move to Phase 2, including Yakima, Benton and Franklin counties, all of which had severe outbreaks this summer and early fall.

Both Clallam and Jefferson counties have been in Phase 2 since mid-July, although Jefferson County had submitted an application at the time to move to Phase 3, which would allow more capacity in restaurants and some other types of businesses to reopen.

Peninsula counties in low-risk categories

Two new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Clallam County, while Jefferson County held with no new cases on Monday.

The case rates in both counties are in the low-risk category, with Clallam County at 20 cases per 100,000 population for the past two weeks, while Jefferson County is at about 22 cases per 100,000 for the same time period.

Of the new cases in Clallam County, one was a household contact of a prior confirmed case, while the other is believed to have contracted the novel coronavirus through their workplace outside of the county, Unthank said.

Health officials in both counties are urging residents to continue mask wearing, social distancing and limiting social interactions because the state and nation continues to see rising case numbers of what is being called a “third wave” of infections.

“The virus doesn’t care if you’re tired of the pandemic or not,”Locke said. “Masks are more important than we previously thought.

“We could step back and do nothing, and the pandemic would be over faster, but the cost would be millions of deaths.”

Locke said health officials believe that up to 80 percent of new cases are caused by only 10 percent to 20 percent of people, so he said wearing a mask is crucial because not all infectious people know they’re infectious.

Most of the recent cases in Jefferson County have been caused by out-of-county exposure, Locke said.

Both counties have been able to stay in the state’s low- to moderate-risk categories for the past few weeks.

“We so far have been really doing quite well at keeping our numbers down,” Unthank said. “We’re trying very hard to keep that going.

“We’re really urging folks to keep those social circles quite small as we move into winter months, and if you do go indoors with folks, make sure it’s a small number of people, and make sure to wear masks and stay 6 feet apart as much as you can.

“If you keep doing that, we really can hold down this wave that so much of the state is seeing,” she continued. “We’re just hoping everyone can take this seriously so we can do that.”

Clallam County has confirmed 267 cases of COVID-19 since March, with 10 active cases and one death, according to Clallam County Public Health data.

Jefferson County has confirmed 81 cases of COVID-19 since March, with 10 active cases and no deaths, according to Jefferson County Public Health data.