Today, March 8, our local Public Health Officer, Dr. Tom Locke shared his assessment of the pandemic in Jefferson County and answered questions submitted by KPTZ listeners.
- Nationally, new COVID-19 cases continue their downward trend, with the caveat that cases have plateaued with an average 60,000 for this last week, which represents a 12% decrease from the previous two weeks. Total cases have climbed to 29 million and deaths have reached 524,000 since this time last year.
- Washington has seen a similar drop in new cases detected, with 678 cases per 100,000 population.
- Jefferson County has dropped to 16 per 100,000 population, with no new cases reported in this past week and 15 reported during the last two-week period. Surrounding counties grouped with our statewide, regional RoadMap to Recovery plan have likewise seen lower numbers of new cases reported. Clallam has reported 32 cases per 100,000 population. Kitsap reports 61 new cases per 100,000 population, with Mason reporting 38 cases per 100,000 population. All counties are now in Phase II of the Governor’s recovery plan at this time.
- These new, lower case rates are deemed to be the intersection of several factors, as Dr. Locke explained. “Seasonality” refers to a time when populations are moving outdoors, opening windows for better ventilation, and spending less time indoors with unrelated household members, which reduces the likelihood of transmission. The majority of the local population is continuing to follow CDC mitigation efforts to suppress the low, but continuing circulation of the virus, as well as the overall volume of virus present. Washington is among states with the lowest seroprevalence. Our community is also ramping up the number of vaccinations given as supplies from the federal government increase.
- These lower new case rates rely on any person with typical influenza or COVID-19 symptoms to continue to seek testing, especially if they have been exposed to a person with COVID-19 infection. As cases dwindle, traditional public health interventions such as case investigations and contact tracing will further suppress the circulation of the virus. So it is critical to continue to seek testing if they have symptoms. People testing positive for the coronavirus also have more options for treating the clinical disease.
- The CDC’s long-awaited guidelines for describing “safer” activities for those fully vaccinated were announced today. “Fully vaccinated” is defined as being 14 days past your second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine OR 14 days past your first shot of the Johnson&Johnson vaccine. CDC’s long awaited guidelines for persons meeting these criteria can gather indoors with one household of individuals who are at lower risk of complications from COVID-19 disease, with no masks or social distancing. Washington state will likely follow these guidelines and produce documents for our state once the guideline details what exceptions and caveats have been published. This movement toward fewer restrictions is in keeping with recent changes detailed by the CDC, such as dropping the quarantine requirement for those fully vaccinated (see above) to quarantine post-exposure to a newly diagnosed COVID-19 case. If you have been vaccinated and develop symptoms, isolate until the condition has been diagnosed or after Covid-19 testing is completed.
- Vaccine news shows nearly 16% of Washington residents have received 1 dose, with nearly 9% fully vaccinated, exceeding our state’s goal of daily vaccinations of 45,000 doses a day. Jefferson County is now vaccinating all those over the age of 65 years and older, so register at the JHC website (https://jeffersonhealthcare.org/covid-19-vaccine/). If you have registered and have not received a notification to make an appointment, something went wrong, so call the phone line at 360-344-9791 and volunteers will help you make an appointment. Do not delay at this point.
- All school personnel and childcare workers of any age also can now receive a vaccination. Tri-Area Pharmacy has ordered and is awaiting 500 doses of the Johnson&Johnson vaccine for this population, with clinics to be planned.
- Near the end of March (March 22), the next tier of persons will be eligible for the vaccine. This includes those who work in congregate settings at high risk for infection, pregnant women, and younger persons with co-morbidities, as well as first responders not previously included in the 1A tier. Clallam County will coordinate vaccinations for these workers in Forks for the west Jefferson County workers. Nearly half of the residents in west Jefferson County are tribal citizens, where vaccinations have been given through medical, point of care sites.
KPTZ listener’s questions:
- High-quality masks for use in non-medical settings can be reused, as long as face fit is not compromised. Air dry for three days, especially if damp, before reuse.
- Delayed reactions to the vaccine can occur, such as dizziness as reported by one of our KPTZ listeners. It could also be a reaction not related, but temporally associated, due to the recent receipt of a vaccine. This information can be reported to a national database by anyone. It is called VAERS and can be found online (https://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/ensuringsafety/monitoring/vaers/index.html) and has been available for many years as a way to determine the breath of reactions that can occur with any vaccinations. Anyone can also sign up for a program called VSAFE (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/vsafe.html) for after vaccination monitoring.
- Even those with previous, serious COVID-19 infection can receive the vaccine. If you had a severe reaction to the first shot and are wondering about getting the second dose, you will need to consult a knowledgeable medical provider regarding their advice. To note, just one dose does provide good protection from more serious disease and death. There is no evidence that prior COVID-19 illness presupposes a person to a stronger reaction to vaccination.
- Those between 60 and 64 years can realistically expect to be vaccinated sometime in May.
- Vaccine hesitancy exists and will be addressed with a public health campaign to reassure the public of it efficacy and safety. This is appropriate when we enter the stage of pushing for a higher herd immunity. We’ll need 70-80% of the population to be fully vaccinated to severely suppress the circulation of the virus.
- The projected opening for the mass vaccination clinic is Saturday, March 21. Vaccines have been ordered and, if filled and delivered, directions will follow soon for this event.
- Dr. Locke discussed how community life might be able to have some semblance of expected activities as long as new cases continue to decline. Traditional events and festivals may be able to be scheduled with adjustments depending on the state of the pandemic. The variants continue to be a concern, with a rapid rise of the UK variant becoming the dominant strain in the US. The South African variant continues to show some resistance to the current vaccines being offered.
Willie Bence, Director, Department of Emergency Management (DEM), Jefferson County:
- Plans continue to be developed for the mass vaccination clinic near the end of March, pending receipt of supplies of vaccines. JHC is nearing their max capacity for first and second vaccinations at the drive-through site, so plans will eventually shift to the mass vaccination site as the eligibility for vaccine continues to include more residents.
- There still is a need for licensed medical staff to give injections and monitor reactions at the upcoming mass vaccination clinics. Other non-medical volunteers will be needed for traffic control and assistance with paperwork. Please email the EOC to register to volunteer.
- Because vaccine supplies still outpace the need, volunteers will not receive a vaccine in order to participate in any of the sites where vaccines are given, as all CDC recommendations are followed to keep us all safer.
- The best campaign for reducing vaccine hesitancy is to share your experience with getting the vaccine. So talk it up, be respectful of others’ concerns, and be realistic about your experience, as it may have a more powerful influence on others.
- The vaccine phone line has some alternatives for transport to the JHC drive-thru clinic. You can reach them at 360-344-9791, Mon-Fri from 9 to 5pm.
- The Commissioners thanked all the public health staff and emergency operation workers for their professional leadership and efforts, including the public health nurses who worked case investigations all year long and have now transitioned to vaccine clinics.
Submit your Public Health questions to Dr. Tom Locke and to Willie Bence 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.