Two more COVID-19 deaths reported on Peninsula

Health officer tells how death is judged to be from the virus

Two more deaths from COVID-19 were reported on the North Olympic Peninsula on Tuesday.

Both were unvaccinated. The Clallam County death was of a man in his 40s who had high blood pressure but who was otherwise healthy, while the death in Jefferson County was of a man in his 60s who had chronic illnesses that contributed to his death, according to Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties.

“It’s a sobering reminder of how severe this disease can still be, especially if you have not yet been vaccinated,” Berry said.

The deaths from COVID-19 reported Tuesday brought Clallam County’s total since the pandemic began to 96 and Jefferson County’s total over the same time period to 24.

What constitutes a death by COVID-19 in a person who had underlying conditions or may already be on hospice care for other conditions?

“In order for it to count as a COVID death, the virus has to significantly accelerate that person’s passing,” Berry said.

Berry said the vast majority of COVID deaths have been in people who were not severely ill with some other ailment.

“They may be an entirely healthy person or have an underlying condition like asthma, high blood pressure or are overweight, but those conditions are not actively killing them,” Berry said.

“They may be living normal, healthy lives and then they get COVID and die,” she continued.

“There is a big push in the misinformation sphere to paint a picture that the people who died of COVID were dying anyway, but that’s not true,” Berry said.

According to Berry, less than 10 percent of the people who have died of COVID also had severe illnesses, such as cancer, that would have killed them in a few years. Catching COVID accelerated that time, she said.

On the Peninsula, COVID-19 case rates continue to decline as transmission in the region moves down from the omicron variant peak.

In Clallam County, the case rate fell to 1,334 cases per 100,000 population on Tuesday from 1,363 per 100,000 on Monday, even though an additional 38 cases were reported on Tuesday, bringing the county’s total since the pandemic began to 10,097.

“We anticipate that this is the beginning of a significant decrease that will continue throughout February,” Berry said.

Berry noted that case numbers are higher in Port Angeles than in Sequim or the West End.

Jefferson County will update its case rate, which is currently 1,068 per 100,000 population, on Friday. Twenty-four more cases were reported in the county on Tuesday, bringing its total case count to 2,777.

Despite the impending lifting of the vaccine requirement for restaurants and bars in March, masking and testing remain important measures to fight off the spread of the virus, Berry said.

Clallam County health officials have requested a supply of KN95 and N95 masks from the state Department of Health to be dispersed in the same manner and locations as the COVID-19 tests, which are offered to residents.

“We have significantly increased COVID-19 testing availability,” Berry said.

“We got a large shipment from the state Department of Health that we were able to push out to our local libraries, so you can now get a free at-home COVID test at any branches in Sequim, Port Angeles, Forks and Clallam Bay,” Berry said.

Berry noted they would be available only to those who are symptomatic or have been exposed to COVID, in order to preserve the testing supplies.

Jefferson County is dispersing KN95 and N95 masks at its regional libraries — Port Townsend Public Library and Jefferson County Library — as well as grocery stores, food banks and the county department of health office.

About 15,000 had been distributed as of Tuesday, according to the county Department of Emergency Management. Department officials expect to continue to get about 5,000 a week.

Free tests are available at public libraries in Jefferson County.