SOUTH BEND — The coronavirus pandemic continues to take its toll locally, as the county’s death count nearly doubled just a few days into the new year.

The Pacific County Health and Human Services Department announced Jan. 4 that three more county residents have died due to complications of covid-19, raising the overall count to seven deaths attributed to the county since the pandemic began about 10 months ago.

“Our deepest sympathies go out to the family and friends of these individuals during this time of loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with them,” said Pacific County Health Officer Dr. Steven Krager in a statement.

Additional information regarding the newly announced deaths had not been released as of the Observer’s Jan. 5 print deadline.

Over the past week, an additional 20 cases of covid-19 have been reported in Pacific County, raising the county’s overall count to 596 cases since the pandemic began. There are currently 31 active cases in the county, with county health officials stressing that there are active cases throughout all areas of the county.

As new covid-19 cases continue to taper off in the community following a flurry of activity in November and December that made Pacific County one of the hottest covid spots in the country, the county health department is encouraging residents to remain cautious and vigilant while adhering to social distancing recommendations.

According to weekly zip code data disclosed by the department on Dec. 30, a majority of recent cases continue to be of people who list a north county address as their permanent residence. Three new cases were reported of people who list a Naselle address, bringing the community’s total case count to 19. Seaview was attributed two new cases and Ocean Park added one case, bringing their totals to 20 and 38 cases, respectively. Raymond and South Bend were attributed eight combined cases, bringing their respective totals to 260 and 137 cases.

Wahkiakum County’s total case count increased by one, over the past week, bringing its total to 55 cases. Clatsop County reported 55 new cases over the same period, increasing its total to 606 cases. Statewide confirmed covid-19 cases totaled 246,376 on Dec. 21, with 15,160 patients hospitalized and 3,482 fatalities reported since the pandemic began.

Influenza, which usually becomes a problem by this point in the year, remains nearly inactive statewide, with no reported flu deaths through Dec. 26, according to the Washington Department of Health. Last year at the same point, 19 Washingtonians had died of the flu.

Schools prepare for back in-person learning

As the new year begins, south county school districts in the county are preparing to bring students back to the classroom for the first time since last November.

As of Jan. 4, the county’s case rate per 100,000 people over a two-week period is 180, down from 208 the previous week. When schools closed down in-person learning in November, the case rate at the time exceeded 800.

The county’s current case rate puts it into the moderate-risk category according to new state recommendations released last month, which are identified as counties with a case rate between 50 and 350. With a case rate below 200, the recommendations urge school districts to prioritize elementary and middle school in-person learning, while also allowing for in-person opportunities for high school students.

The Ocean Beach School District Board of Directors is set to hold a special meeting on Jan. 6 to make a formal decision on whether to return to in-person learning. If approved, schools could reopen for instruction as early as next Monday, Jan. 11.

Prior to going back to a remote-only learning model in November, Long Beach Elementary was holding in-person classes five days a week. The district’s other schools were in a hybrid model, with students attending class in-person two days per week.

The Naselle-Grays River Valley School District is also expected to resume some in-person learning on Jan. 11, with a hybrid learning model where students are in the classroom two days per week.

While the state-recommended thresholds were relaxed last month, covid-19 preventative measures must continue to be enforced within schools. Measures include: keeping students assigned to cohorts and groups; keeping students and staff distanced at least six feet apart; requiring face coverings; and increased hand hygiene, cleaning and ventilation. Students and staff also must be screened for symptoms each day.

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