Officials brace for sixth wave of COVID-19

Effects could be mitigated with proper precautions

Trick-or-treating can be done safely, but the North Olympic Peninsula health officer urges caution for those attending large gatherings as officials prepare for a sixth wave of COVID-19 infections.

A sixth wave spurred by holiday travel and gatherings would be added to already high rates of infections on the Peninsula, where case rates have decreased from an early September peak but have leveled off at rates that could quickly increase without precautions, according to Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Jefferson and Clallam counties.

“The fifth wave was our most disastrous wave, and our plateau now in our region is much higher than it has ever been,” Berry said, referring to the surge in cases seen in the late summer.

“If we’re not cautious, the sixth wave could put the fifth wave to shame.

“For this virus, we have not reached herd immunity levels in our community, and we really have to be cautious and bring our numbers down lower than this as we move into the holiday season.”

Clallam County recorded a rate of 322 cases per 100,000 population for the past two weeks as of Tuesday, according to public health data.

Jefferson County’s case rate increased slightly to 253.92 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Oct. 20. Before that, the case rate was 156.74 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Oct. 13, according to public health data.

Both current case rates are higher than the peak seen during last year’s holiday surge, Berry said.

While officials are expecting a sixth wave at this point — since vaccination and natural immunity levels are not at the point needed for herd immunity — the effects could be limited if more people get vaccinated, if all are cautious about indoor gatherings and follow other prevention guidelines such as mask wearing and social distancing, Berry said.

Berry estimated at least 10 percent of each county across the state needs to get vaccinated or recover from COVID-19 for the state to reach herd immunity.

In regard to Halloween celebrations, Berry urges residents who are throwing parties to consider making them vaccinated residents only — as last year a surge in cases due to Halloween party outbreaks in Clallam County — and for those attending outdoor events to consider wearing a face mask if around large groups of people.

Traditional trick-or-treating by children in residential neighborhoods can be done safely, Berry said.

“Trick-or-treating can be done safely, and something that can be done very well to celebrate the holiday,” Berry said.

Clallam County added 12 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, raising its total to 4,811 since the pandemic began, according to county public health data.

Jefferson County confirmed three more cases on Tuesday, raising its total to 1,133 since the pandemic began, according to county public health data.

On Tuesday, 11 Clallam County residents and four Jefferson County residents were in hospitals because of COVID-19, Berry said.

As of Tuesday, 17 residents had died from COVID-19 in Jefferson County and 60 residents had died of the virus in Clallam County since the pandemic began.

A workplace outbreak of 18 cases was reported as of Tuesday in Jefferson County; of those, 12 are Jefferson residents, two are Clallam County residents and four are Kitsap County residents, Berry said, adding that a large outbreak in Grays Harbor County is bleeding over into the Peninsula’s West End.

According to the latest data from the state Department of Health, 80.1 percent of the population 12 and older in Jefferson County have started vaccinations, with 76.5 percent fully vaccinated. Of the entire population, 73.7 percent have begun vaccination and 70.4 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the state’s dashboard.

In Clallam County, 74.1 percent of the population 12 and older have started vaccinations, with 69.5 percent fully vaccinated. Of the total population, 65.2 percent have begun vaccinations, with 61.7 percent fully vaccinated, according to the state’s dashboard.

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