Reinfections studied to see if omicron is on peninsula

New COVID-19 cases are increasing on the North Olympic Peninsula, says the region’s public health officer as officials continue to track cases connected to Thanksgiving gatherings and their subsequent exposures.

An increase also is being seen in severe reinfections of COVID-19 among unvaccinated residents, said Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties.

“We’ve had a spike in reinfections in Clallam,” Berry said, “which could be omicron related or just be general reinfections.”

There have only been a few reinfection cases recently, but the infections are more severe than in prior reinfections, Berry said.

Officials are having those reinfection cases genetically sequenced and will know in two to three weeks if they are from the omicron variant. Early data on the omicron variant has shown an increased risk of reinfection for those whose only immunity to COVID-19 comes from recovering from the disease, Berry said.

All reinfections recently in Clallam County have been among unvaccinated residents, Berry said.

On Wednesday, Clallam County added 21 new cases of COVID-19. Jefferson County added eight new cases, Berry said.

Case rates

Clallam County’s case rate rose to 224 cases per 100,000 population for the last two weeks as of Wednesday. On Tuesday, the county reported a rate of 218 cases per 100,000 population for the past two weeks as of Tuesday.

“We’re definitely starting to see that climb,” Berry said.

Jefferson County records its case rate weekly on Fridays. Last week, it recorded a case rate of 214.35 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Dec. 1, according to county public health data. Jefferson County health officials had recorded a case rate of 192.61 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Nov. 17.

The rise in cases is not unexpected, but health officials want to mitigate the surge as much as possible to avoid the hospitals being overwhelmed, Berry said.

“We anticipated that we would see a surge in cases related to the holidays,” Berry said. “So, this is not unanticipated, but it is something we’re going to work to stem the tide of as much as possible.

“We don’t want to return to the days of overwhelming numbers of infections. We’re far from that now, but we’re going to be working hard as departments to really stem the tide of that and really encourage our citizens to do the same.”

Berry continues to urge residents who are presently unvaccinated to get vaccinated as soon as possible. She urged those who are vaccinated but who received their initial vaccination series at least six months ago get a booster shot.

All residents should continue to wear face masks while indoors when with others whose vaccination status is unknown, and continue to practice social distancing and limit gathering sizes, Berry said.

Further restrictions to reduce COVID-19 transmission are not being considered yet, Berry said.

“We’re not there yet,” Berry said. “The mitigation measures we have in place are effective and likely to help blunt the severity of this surge, but we are encouraging all of our citizens to work together to keep our case numbers down as we move into the holidays.

“We know how to do that: getting vaccinated, wearing masks, being thoughtful about gatherings and travel. If we do that, especially if we go out there and get our boosters, I think we can limit this upcoming holiday surge.”

As of Wednesday, Clallam County has confirmed a total of 5,407 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. Jefferson County has confirmed 1,343 cases.

Neither county reported a new death on Wednesday. Clallam County has had 74 residents die from COVID-19 and Jefferson County has had 20 residents die since the pandemic began.