Officials: Avoid gathering with non-household members for holiday

North Olympic Peninsula health officials are urging residents to not gather and travel for the Thanksgiving holiday as COVID-19 case numbers continue to rise.

Clallam County confirmed 17 new cases on Monday, while Jefferson County confirmed three cases late Sunday an no additional infections by Monday afternoon.

Both counties are in the state’s high-risk category, with case rates of 186 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks in Clallam County, and 156.74 cases per 100,000 for the same time period in Jefferson County.

The test positivity percentage dropped slightly in each county, with Clallam County having 5.2 percent from Nov. 3-17 and Jefferson County having 3.47 percent from Nov. 15-22, according to county health officers.

Case sources in Clallam County vary, said Dr. Alison Unthank, the county health officer.

“It’s pretty well dispersed in our community,” she said. “We’re seeing cases from a wide variety of sources instead of individually focused outbreaks.

“Mostly, the primary driver is social gatherings — small ones — but really those social gatherings are really leading to a lot of cases.”

There were no additional cases related to the long-term care facility outbreak over the weekend that Clallam County Public Health has been investigating, Unthank said.

The Transportation Security Administration reported more than 3 million airline travelers last weekend, and officials are expecting that number to climb because Wednesday is traditionally the most common travel day for people with regard to Thanksgiving, said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.

During his briefing with the board of county commissioners Monday, Locke emphasized the need for people to restrict travel. The chances of becoming infected or infecting others with COVID-19 go up with the factor of asymptomatic transmission, he said, and many people who spread the virus don’t know they have it.

“You just cannot tell who is infected,” Locke said. “These case numbers are just the tip of the iceberg.”

Unthank agreed.

“We’re strongly, strongly advising people to avoid in-person gatherings with people outside their household,” she said. “With the amount of transmission of virus in our community, the probability that someone at your Thanksgiving table is infected when you have a large gathering is really quite high.”

While the case rates on the Peninsula are the highest each county has seen during the pandemic, they are much lower than many other parts of the state. King County reported a case rate of 247.9 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Friday, and Spokane County reported 457.3 per 100,000 for the same time period, according to the state’s dashboard.

Counties along the Washington-Idaho border have some of the highest case rates in the state, with Garfield County at 1,216.2 cases per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Friday, according to the state dashboard.

Bringing case rates back down on the Peninsula will depend on community members following restrictions and continuing to wear masks, keep social distance, practice good hand hygiene and avoid gathering with people outside one’s household, Locke said.

“We know we can put a lid on this,” Locke said. “We did it in March, and we can do it again.”

Clallam County has confirmed 440 cases of COVID-19 since March, with 147 active cases, three patients currently hospitalized and two deaths, according to Clallam County Public Health data.

Jefferson County has confirmed 148 cases of COVID-19 since March, with 22 active cases and no deaths, according to Jefferson County Public Health data.

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