Peninsula virus, flu cases on the rise

Three highly infectious viruses — COVID-19, influenza and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) — have taken hold on the Peninsula, health officials said.

Although each presents health risks, Dr. Allison Berry, the health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, said COVID-19 is still the most dangerous, despite being at a plateau at the state and national levels.

Three more Peninsula residents have died of COVID-19 in the past month, she said.

“COVID-19 is still far and away the most severe of the three viruses, but thankfully we have a good vaccine to reduce its severity for those who receive it and to reduce one’s likelihood of contracting the virus and passing it on to others,” Berry said.

On Nov. 21, Clallam County reported two men in their 70s had died of the virus last week. Both were vaccinated but had not received the latest booster and had underlying health conditions, Berry said.

A man in his 70s also died the week prior in Jefferson County. Berry said he was vaccinated but had not received the most recent booster and had several underlying conditions.

Clallam County reported a total of 15,082 cases since the pandemic began with a case rate 109 of per 100,000 population. The two new deaths raised the county’s total to 127.

In Jefferson County, there have been a total of 6,244 cases since the pandemic began, with a case rate of 184 per 100,000 on Nov. 21.

Case rates are a reflection of cases reported during a two-week period. They are computed using a formula based on 100,000 population even for counties that do not have 100,000 people living in them.

Both Peninsula counties were in the moderate-risk range for COVID-19.

The counties’ next monthly update will be Dec. 19.

“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to quantify case rates as more and more individuals use home tests and don’t report them, or don’t test at all,” Berry said in an email.

“In Jefferson County, we are detecting about 1 in 5 COVID-19 cases in the community, and in Clallam, we are detecting about 1 in 10. We continue to carefully monitor hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19.”

The most dominant variant is still omicron and its sub-variants B.A.4 and B.A.5, which account for about 67 percent of the current circulating strains, Berry said. However, there are two new subvariants on the horizon, B.Q.1 and B.Q.1.1, that are able to get around previous infection and vaccination than previous variants, she said.

“These variants currently account for 18 percent of circulating strains in Washington state,” Berry said.

“Thankfully, early data shows that the bivalent booster is still holding up strong against these variants, so if you have gotten yours, you are well protected.”

RSV and flu

RSV can feel like a severe cold or even the flu for most adults, but it can still lead to more severe disease, hospitalization or even death, Berry said. It is especially dangerous for children younger than 5 and adults older than 65.

“Unlike COVID-19 and influenza, there is no widely available vaccine for RSV,” Berry said.

“The best protection against RSV is for all of us to wear a mask in crowded indoor areas and to stay home when we are sick.

“Staying home when we are sick and wearing a mask around others would make a world of difference in protecting our kids right now.”

RSV cases are significantly high this year to the point where pediatric hospitals, like Mary Bridge in Tacoma and Seattle Children’s, are becoming overwhelmed, Berry said.

“We are starting to see a significant rise in RSV cases locally,” she said. “Since we don’t have children’s hospitals here, we are very dependent on Tacoma and Seattle hospitals for the care of our critically ill kids.

“We are working with Jefferson Healthcare and Olympic Medical Center to put together plans for how we could care for kids locally if those hospitals stopped accepting transfers of ill children, but none of this is ideal.”

Unlike COVID-19, not every case of RSV and the flu is counted. What’s tracked instead is the percentage of tests, performed at regular and urgent care visits, that come back positive.

“Of those tests sent for RSV in the last week in Clallam, Jefferson and Kitsap counties, 33 percent came back positive for RSV and 6 percent for the flu,” Berry said.