County begins testing wastewater for COVID-19

Posted 7/27/22

Jefferson County health officials have started testing sewage water to help determine the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

Dr. Allison Berry, Public Health Officer for Jefferson and Clallam …

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County begins testing wastewater for COVID-19


Jefferson County health officials have started testing sewage water to help determine the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

Dr. Allison Berry, Public Health Officer for Jefferson and Clallam counties, told the Jefferson County Board of Health last week that testing was underway.

“We are just starting collection of wastewater monitoring data out of the Port Townsend sewer system,” Berry told health board members at their July 21 meeting.

Testing is limited, however, by infrastructure.

“It does require a sewer system — so we can’t do it in much of the rest of the county,” Berry explained.

The effort is being done as part of a state-level program. Berry also noted that information will be shared on the health department’s website when it’s ready for release.

“We’ve just started sampling. We don’t have data back yet that’s in a publicly available format, but we should start receiving that in the next couple of weeks,” she said.

Berry told the health board that the community is continuing to see high levels of COVID-19 transmission.

As of July 18, health officials had documented 5,033 cases of COVID-19 in the county.

By Monday, the total number of cases had risen to 5,178.

One person in Jefferson County remains hospitalized due to COVID.

“We’ve had no new deaths due to COVID-19,” Berry told the health board. So “we’ve lost a total of 30 of our citizens to COVID-19 here, which remains one of the lowest death rates for COVID-19 in the United States, which we’re very proud of. It’s something that we’ve worked really hard to do.”

Berry said the county is now “in a different phase of the pandemic.”

“It is truly endemic now; it’s circulating throughout our community. What that means from a practical standpoint is that some of the strategies we used before to control COVID-19 are no longer practical or are frankly incredibly useful,” she said.

Contact tracing is no longer possible, Berry said, and she again urged the importance of wearing a mask in crowded indoor settings.

“We know that any time you meet up in an indoor space with lots of other people who are unmasked, there is a probability of getting COVID-19 in that space,” she said. “We have a lot of COVID in the community and so we really more now emphasize kind of universal precautions. Indoor spaces are a space where you contract COVID-19. Wearing high-quality masks goes a long way to reduce your probability of getting COVID-19.”

Berry said being vaccinated and boosted goes a long way to reducing severity of illness and reducing the probability of death or hospitalization due to COVID-19.

She also noted that the dominant circulating variant of COVID-19 now is BA.5.

“BA.5 is more transmissible than anything that has come before,” she said.

“The good news is it does not show increased severity. So for those who are up to date on their vaccinations, we’re not seeing a rise in severe disease,” she said.

“But we are still seeing severe disease for those who are not vaccinated or who are under vaccinated, Berry added. “So it’s important to know that for the vast majority of us, we need at least three doses of COVID-19 vaccine.”

Berry also noted that 300 and 400 deaths a day from COVID-19 are being reported at the national level.

“Which is extreme,” she said. “Four hundred a day is a really extremely high number and the vast majority of those deaths are unnecessary because they’re predominantly among people who are unvaccinated or under vaccinated. And most of the time it’s actually just truly under-vaccinated.”

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” Berry added. “Endemic COVID-19 does not have to lead to hundreds of deaths a day. That is preventable, primarily with vaccination.”