Today, February 16, 2021, our local Public Health Officer, Dr. Tom Locke shared his assessment of the pandemic in Jefferson County and answered questions submitted by KPTZ listeners.
Submit your Public Health questions to Dr. Tom Locke by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Note: The weekly deadline for these to be submitted is on Fridays at noon, to be answered at the following Monday’s BOCC meeting.
- Nationally, new COVID-19 cases are continuing to decline, noting a 41% drop from two weeks ago, with hospitalizations down nearly one half million. A more troubling trend is the decrease in COVID-19 testing nationally and statewide.
- Washington, having seen a surge in December and January, continues to see a drop in new cases, averaging 670 cases per day. This is down 58% from the last two weeks, bringing the cases per 100,000 population to 259. New case positivity has also dropped to 6.3%, from 7.0% last week. Dr. Locke reminded us, although this is a decline in case rates and positivity, we are coming down from a peak in the pandemic that is the highest we have seen to date.
- As of February 12, Jefferson County has reported 326 cases, with a case rate down to 66 cases per 100,000 population and a 3.4% case positivity. The New York Times recently placed Jefferson County among the areas nationwide with the lowest case rates and percent positivity numbers.
- Neighboring county metrics continue to decline among those areas placed in our regional Road Map to Reopening plan as well, enabling all four counties to move into Phase 2 as of February 14. Clallam County reported 62 cases per 100,000 population with 2.6% new case positivity. Kitsap County reported 112 cases per 100,000 and 5.1% new case positivity, while Mason County recorded 105 cases per 100,000 population and 4.9% new case positivity.
- Vaccines rates are rising, now achieving the goal of giving vaccinations as soon as supplies are received. The US is averaging about 1,000,000 doses per day, with Washington State having vaccinated about 1,000,000 residents to date. Locally, Jefferson County has vaccinated about 8,000 high-risk persons, with Jefferson HealthCare inoculating about 85% of county residents and 15% being given by local pharmacies. The county is soon to finalize its plans for mass vaccination sites, when it is anticipated the vaccine supply will be more readily available near the end of March. April and May may bring more supplies, with June and July having more massive supplies, when anyone will be able to get the vaccine without significant problems.
- The path of this pandemic stands at a fork in the road, according to Dr. Locke. He quoted Dr. Tom Friedan, a former CDC Director, who stated that to avoid a fourth wave of increased cases as we reopen our communities, our commitment to safer behavior will determine the direction of our local epidemic. So now is the time to recommit ourselves to masking, distancing, and washing our hands. Masking directives were recently published by the CDC, giving us specific information on the greatest protection for dampening the transmission of this virus. A good quality mask has a tight weave (can’t see sunlight) in the fabric of the outer mask, preferably three layers, over a paper surgical mask worn next to your face, which provides a tight fit. If an infectious source case is not masking, only an N95 respirator could provide as much protection (90-95%) as this double masking protocol. We have been advised to mask anytime you are with a non-household person, regardless of vaccination status.
- Dr. Locke discussed the importance of continued testing for COVID-19. We may be less motivated to get a test when we have symptoms, but this remains the way to further control transmission in our community. Although we have virtually eliminated an influenza season, it is critically important to get a test, especially when you are running a fever, a hallmark of COVID-19 infection. Testing when symptomatic and isolation / quarantine can continue to reduce spread locally. It protects other household members as well as anyone with which you interact and continues to be our best public health strategy.
- Moving to Phase 2 on the Olympic Peninsula seems doable at this time if we continue to follow prevention protocols. Dining with the same members of your immediate household is safer than mixing households in indoor settings for a prolonged time period. The evidence of the sustainability of the current reopening measures will be first seen in those communities along the I-5 corridor. This will be evaluated every two weeks. If there is no rise in new cases, this may indicate a better outlook for us locally.
- The recent drop in cases is not likely due to increased vaccination rollouts, but more reasonably attributed to seasonality factors. We are coming out of the prime time of the year for reduced transmission in respiratory illnesses. While some areas have seen higher naturally acquired infections that limit the spread of this virus, masking of nearly 80% of the nation also contributes to the drop in new cases. While cases continue to drop, Dr. Locke reminded everyone that it is from an extremely high prevalence of cases. It is important to recognize the intersection of widespread rollout of vaccinations and prevention measures that will end this pandemic for us locally.
- KPTZ listeners were concerned about ADA access when the current volume of vaccinations are being done through a drive-thru near the hospital, not really accessible to those with only wheelchairs. Dr. Locke stated that upcoming mass vaccinations sites will accommodate these individuals, as well as point-of-care opportunities.
- Washington state currently does genomic sequencing on about 2% of respiratory isolates to look for virus variants. The cost is very high to build more capacity, so the state has a focus on two variant problems identified. The first priority is testing those persons who test positive for COVID-19 two weeks after completed vaccinations. The second is testing those persons with an anomaly with their PCR results, specifically the third arm of the test that triggers a positive result called the ‘S” drop.
- Dr. Locke encouraged those who are trying to convince others to get the vaccine to let individuals proceed according to their own timeframe. Safety data continues to be similar to the results reported by the two leading manufacturers, with nearly 38 million doses given in the United States. Nearly 71% of citizens have expressed an interest in taking the vaccine, which will be good coverage to protect us all.
- Regarding the KPTZ listener question about rapid testing in schools, Dr. Locke stated that the verdict is not in on the efficacy of using this in school settings. School superintendents have done some trial testing and a report is expected soon. This type of testing is more accurate with those reporting symptoms versus those without, again being a timing issue of test application and best used in areas of high seroprevalence of new cases. If the report warrants use, Jefferson County would be able to get the testing kits.
- Vaccine eligibility continues to focus on those at highest risk of severe disease and death. A new supply of first doses are expected this week. About 7,000 residents have signed up for notification through Jefferson HealthCare and will be called as their age tier comes up, older through younger, the goal being saving lives.
- Dr. Locke explained that you are fully immune 14 days after the second vaccination and cautioned that one in twenty people, if exposed, still may experience severe disease if they are exposed and become infected.
- Jefferson County has not been penalized for it’s low seroprevalence of new cases. It’s just a factor of uneven distribution of the vaccine. He explained that the state still needs to determine a formula for distribution, as the counties still do not know, from week to week, whether they will receive an allotment and how much. The professional association of public health officers has suggested allotment based on the percentage of high-risk groups in each county, until supplies increase. Currently, when an allotment comes in, you have about a 10% chance of finding an appointment for the prime dose, relative to the demand.
The following is a summary of the presentation made by Willie Bence, Director, Department of Emergency Management:
- Recruitment continues for medical and non-medical volunteers, with an eye toward the mass vaccination sites to be held when supplies of vaccines increase. It will take months to respond to this demand for the vaccine and many in the community are needed for this task. The call center to assist with making appointments is still in operation and anyone can call 360-344-9791, Monday thru Friday, 9am to 4pm.
- Those over 65 years of age are encouraged to register on the Jefferson HealthCare website to be notified when their age tier appointments are available.
- Phase 2 has arrived in Jefferson County and Mr. Bence asked that you observe masking guidelines when indoors as our service and support staff are not currently eligible for vaccinations and the risk of transmission continues since they interface with the public for many hours at a time. Closing and reopening becomes expensive and threatens their existence when safety protocols are not strictly followed.
- Our stellar county road crew employees were able to salt traffic areas prior to the snow as well as ploughing where needed. This is a good time to revisit your emergency preparations for readiness, as this year pandemic concerns occurred alongside pandemic concerns.