The following is a summary of the presentation made by Dr. Tom Locke, our local Public Health Officer and Willie Bence, Director, EOC, Jefferson County, during the Public Health briefings at this week’s Board of County Commissioners meeting:
Today, April 26th, 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.
- Nationally, the pandemic picture shows a leveling of new cases, dropping 15% from the previous two weeks. This trend is driven by the decrease in new infections among the states in the upper Midwest, as well as the states along the Atlantic seaboard. However, Oregon has seen a 51% increase of new infections within the last two weeks, making it the 17th highest case rate among those states experiencing a rise in new cases.
- Washington continues to see new cases increase (26%) the last two weeks, as well as hospitalizations (42%). Hospitalization continues to occur among younger residents who are ill enough to be admitted, with improved survival rates.
- New case rates for the state now exceed the Governor’s threshold for Staying in Phase III of the RoadMap to Recovery at 202 per 100,000 population. These higher case rates and hospitalization rates are primarily driven by counties experiencing a surge of a fourth wave, such as Pierce and Yakima, at 325 per 100,000 and 218 per 100,000 per population, respectively.
- The state will evaluate phase status for all counties on May 3 and most likely will place some counties back into Phase II restrictions, to further mitigate the spread of the virus. This of course means that many businesses such as restaurants and gyms will need to reduce capacity to control the spread of infection. Although many of the clusters of new infections occur within households, new infections are likely the result of travel outside the community, friends and family visits into a community from another area and variants which are more infectious and transmissible. Individual and household behavior have a widespread effect on the business life of the community and its ability to stay in the less restrictive phases of recovery outlined by the Governor.
- Jefferson County has reported 19 new cases in the last two weeks, bringing our case rate to 60 per 100,000 population. This may be recalculated as of this reporting due to the arrival of lab results conducted over the weekend. Clallam County remains at 108 per 100,000 and Kitsap has risen to 190 per 100,000.
- Washington continues to receive and distribute vaccinations (5 million to date), with approximately 40% of the population having received at least one dose and 27% completing the vaccine series and now fully vaccinated.
- Jefferson County continues to lead other counties with nearly 57% of residents having received one dose and 45% fully vaccinated. Removing the proportion of younger residents who are currently not eligible to receive the vaccines in Jefferson County at this time (11%), 62% of adults 17 years and older are fully vaccinated, with at least 50% receiving their first dose. This progress toward widespread community immunity may begin to blunt the fourth wave of this pandemic in our region. This progress would not have been possible without the extraordinary support from Jefferson HealthCare, the Department of Emergency Management, area pharmacies and an army of volunteers. Much of our county was eligible as a priority for the vaccine due to our unusual population distribution of older residents and our readiness to receive and deploy the vaccines.
- This is a critical juncture for communities, as supplies have now caught up to the demand for vaccinations. New strategies are needed for harder-to-reach populations and those with hesitancy about receiving the vaccine. This last weekend at the Chimacum School clinic, 308 second doses were given, but only 147 of 300 first doses available were given. The successful Chimacum School clinic will continue with 2nd doses for the next 2 weeks, but first dose clinics will now target smaller communities south – like Brinnon – for the first weekend in May, as well as a clinic for the predominantly Spanish-speaking population next Sunday at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Port Townsend. Walk-up clinics, as well as mobile clinics, are also being planned, with support from the state. Homebound residents figure prominently in this change in outreach, since the current model of mass vaccination sites do not serve all residents. It is estimated that at least 20% more residents of Jefferson County need these barriers to be removed in order to get a vaccination and achieve community immunity. A caveat remains that once a vaccine vial is opened it must be used within a specific time frame, so wasted vaccine doses are still a concern.
- Vaccine hesitancy remains a challenge, further eroded by the recent suspension of the Johnson % Johnson vaccine due to a rare blood clotting disorder discovered among women under 50 years old of child bearing age. This vaccine was a popular choice for younger populations, with only one injection required. The FDA and CDC remain confident about this vaccine’s safety and efficacy; however, some residents who favored this vaccine are now more hesitant. Between one fourth and one third would still get it. It will be important to encourage other vaccine options in this population.
- For those who start with a two-dose vaccination series, about 8-10% are failing to come back for the second dose. Although the first dose confers good protection, it is not the protection one could receive when two doses are administered. The second dose primes your immunity with a higher supply of antibodies necessary to protect you further from variants. Employers are being engaged to support employee vaccinations with paid time off for the second dose, if recipients experience side effects, and to talk about the benefits of returning to a more socially safe working environment, as well as a more normal social life.
- Will there be an effort in the public realm to limit access to a venue when a person is not fully vaccinated? Dr. Locke stated that some organizations may do this, especially airlines and educational institutions, particularly private businesses. The limited Emergency Use Authorization status is a changing landscape as both Pfizer and Moderna have applied to the FDA for final approval of their vaccines, thus changing the possibility of required proof of vaccination for participation in certain venues. This may also support incentive toward more residents getting fully vaccinated, as voluntary vaccination progresses to mandatory.
- Dr. Locke will modify his order for specifications for open meetings to now align with Governor Inslee’s requirements. The Chair of each body will remain responsible for adhering to the recommendations and assure that a plan is in place to comply with the proclamation. Dr. Locke stated that this fourth wave is expected to peak in May and then drop off. With prevalence in some parts of the state still high, exposure opportunities are still high, so it is best to have the public remote when having meetings as specified in state standards at this time. A website link to the open meeting capacity and best practices will be placed on the Jefferson County website.
- The capacity of a Physical Therapy clinic is not specifically addressed by state standards like businesses, industry or commercial space guidelines. It is ruled by healthcare facility standards and should adhere to the CDC recommendations of distancing, ventilation, masking, health screening and sanitation guidelines. This is balanced by the population coming to the clinic in terms of access while maintaining their health during a pandemic. Phase II and Phase III do not apply to healthcare facilities. It then becomes a personal assessment of your risk in exchange for the health benefits you may need.
Willie Bence, Director, Department of Emergency Management(DEM):
- This last week, Chimacum clinic delivered 455 doses of the Moderna vaccine, with 308 first doses delivered and 147 of 160 scheduled first doses, with 13 no shows.
- This next weekend, there will be 100 first doses available at a pop-up clinic in Brinnon. Those needing assistance in scheduling appointments need to call 360-344-9791 at the DEM Covid Vaccine Phone Line, M-F from 9am to 5pm.
- This Sunday there will be a Spanish-speaking pop-up clinic at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Port Townsend.
- DEM is seeking partnerships with organizations and entities who can identify under-served populations for vaccinations for the purpose of planning strategies for additional vaccination outreach and clinics.
- Thanks go out to all who have been involved with this massive vaccination effort. For the meantime, however, Mr. Bence has suspended recruitment of volunteers as the mass vaccination sites transition to smaller, more unique populations still needing vaccines, such as homeless populations, congregate living settings or home bound residents with the mobile clinics.
- Dr. Locke stated that the Labor and Industry standards still apply to meeting indoors within office spaces, with masks to a question submitted by the public to DEM. It is not appropriate at this time to have fully vaccinated persons take off their masks in an office setting when all are fully vaccinated.