PACIFIC COUNTY — Last week, Pacific County Public Health Officer Dr. Steven Krager predicted that the county was going to see a surge of covid-19 cases, driven by the easily transmissible delta variant.

Just one week later, Krager’s forecast has already come true and county health officials are now urging all residents — regardless of vaccination status — to mask up again when in an indoor public setting.

Over the past week, 61 new cases have been reported in Pacific County, a staggering total that isn’t expected to slow down in the near foreseeable future. As of Aug. 2, the county’s case rate per 100,000 people over the past 14 days is 335, the highest it’s been in more than three months and on pace to become the second-biggest wave of cases the county has faced during the entirety of the pandemic, trailing only last year’s miserable November-December downpour.

In all, 1,186 cases have been reported in the county and 47 people have been hospitalized, up from 45 the previous week. And in back-to-back weeks, a county resident has died from complications due to covid-19, bringing the toll to 15.

In smaller neighboring Wahkiakum County — which has a population about one-fifth as many as Pacific County and whose western residents are in the Naselle-Grays River School District — five new cases were reported late last week, bringing that county’s cumulative total to 168 cases with seven of those potentially active. Wahkiakum’s death toll increased to three.

New mask guidanceThe recommendation comes following updated guidance issued last week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which urges people to wear a mask in an indoor public space if they live in a county with high or substantial covid-19 transmission. Pacific County is one of many counties in the state currently with a high level of transmission.

The CDC’s metrics used to identify a county’s transmission level are the number of new cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period, and the percentage of covid-19 tests that come back as positive over a seven-day period.

In a news release announcing the recommendations, the county health department said that the county’s active case rate increased a remarkable 288% over the past month. Since March, 94% of Pacific County cases have occurred in people who were not fully vaccinated.

“The covid-19 vaccines continue to be highly effective at preventing severe illness that can lead to hospitalization and death, even among those infected with the delta variant,” the department said. “A small proportion of people who are fully vaccinated may still get covid-19, but infections in fully vaccinated people tend to be mild.”

The change in guidance from requesting only unvaccinated people to wear a mask in public — a mask mandate is still in place for the unvaccinated in Washington state — to asking everyone in highly transmissible areas to wear a mask indoors comes as new data shows that fully vaccinated people who are infected with the delta variant may be able to easily spread the virus to others, even if they themselves are asymptomatic.

“You’re much less likely to get covid if you’re vaccinated, but people who do get covid and are vaccinated are being shown to definitely be able to transmit it,” county health director Katie Lindstrom said. “If [vaccinated people] do get covid, it’s showing their viral load in their nose is similar to somebody who’s unvaccinated and was infected. That just really makes us think that everybody needs to go back to mask-wearing, especially in areas of high transmission.”

Cases ballooningFor much of the course of the pandemic, covid-19 cases in Pacific County have been heavily concentrated in the northern half of the county, particularly Raymond and South Bend. But the number of cases in south county has grown substantially in recent weeks, making up at least half of all new cases. Lindstrom reiterated that cases are being identified in all parts of the county.

“In the very, very beginning [of the pandemic], we had more cases in south county, and that was maybe only the first 20 cases or something. But then all of the time in between it was really leaning more toward north county. Now is the first time we’re really seeing south county uptick again, but [cases] are everywhere,” Lindstrom said.

On the peninsula, at least two dining establishments have dealt with covid-19 cases among staff within the past week. Drop Anchor Seafood & Grill, in Long Beach, announced on July 28 that a member of its staff had tested positive for the virus, and that it was working with the county health department to prevent it from spreading further.

Anyone who had visited the restaurant within the past 10 days of the announcement, and was showing symptoms of covid-19, was asked to quarantine and get tested. All of Drop Anchor’s staff that may have been exposed have since self-isolated and underwent testing. The restaurant is offering takeout-only through Aug. 4, and hopes to resume indoor dining on Aug. 6.

McDonald’s in Long Beach was also closed for two days last week after at least one employee tested positive for covid-19. The fast-food restaurant has only been offering drive-thru service since the pandemic began, and customers are not considered close contacts because of how brief their encounters are with staff.

The county’s vaccination rate stayed fairly consistent over the previous week, with about 60 more Pacific County residents opting to get their first vaccine dose and the county inching closer to a milestone. As of July 31, at least 49.96% of all county residents have received at least one dose of covid-19, and at least 45.8% of the total population — 10,003 people — are now considered fully vaccinated.

For a list of all upcoming vaccine clinics in Pacific County, visit www.pacificcountycovid19.com.

For vaccination information in Wahkiakum County, call 360-849-4041, M-F, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Getting testedLindstrom said testing locations and the county’s phone lines were swamped on Monday with people seeking to get tested, and new cases are expected to rise accordingly when results from those cases come back in the ensuing days.

As the demand for testing increases again, the county is now offering free, convenient test kits from Everlywell that can be conducted from the comfort of home. The self-swab kits are available for all Pacific County residents age 16 and older who have a valid email address to register their kit and access results.

The kits can be picked up in south county at the Pacific County Health and Human Services Department office at 7031 Sandridge Road, Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. — except for 12:30-1:30 p.m., when the office is closed for lunch. People seeking a kit are asked to call ahead at 360-642-9349 to ensure availability. Kits are also available at Ilwaco Pharmacy at 101 1st St, and can be contacted at 360-642-3133.

When arriving at either of the locations, people are asked to park in the designated parking space and call the respective phone number. A staff member will then bring the test kit out to your vehicle. Once home, follow the kit’s instructions and return via a UPS drop box location. Drop boxes in Long Beach are located inside Oman & Sons at 612 Washington Ave. and 1st Place Shopping at 811 1st Place S. Drop-offs at both locations must be done before 3 p.m.

“These at-home kits are really nice, and they’re easy to do at home … You can just give yourself a test and send it off,” Lindstrom said.

Other testing options for all ages include Peninsula Pharmacy, which is offering testing from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Thursdays at 117 Spruce St. in Ilwaco. To schedule an appointment, visit www.covidtest360.com. The health department is offering testing at its Sandridge location, with people asked to call 360-642-9349 to schedule an appointment.

Ocean Beach Hospital is also providing testing for established patients, who are asked to make an appointment by calling their provider. Family Health Center in Ocean Park is also offering testing for established patients, who are asked to make an appointment by calling 360-665-3000.

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