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(BOCC) meeting.
Please note that the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) will not be in session next Monday, May 31 due to the Memorial Day holiday. They will meet the following week on June 7 to provide the public health update from Dr. Tom Locke and Willie Bence at the usual time, 9:45am here at KPTZ.
Today, May 24, 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 indicates improvement with a continued decrease in new COVID-19 cases, dropping 38% from the previous two weeks, with hospitalizations dropping as well. The average new cases diagnosed nationally is 30,000 a day, which is the lowest average since the early summer months, about 11 months ago.
- Washington was recently considered a hot zone, being one of the top ten states with increasing cases and hospitalization rates. Dropping from 10th nationally to 15th this past two weeks demonstrates a 47% decrease in new cases and the exponential decay seen near the last phases of a pandemic as the suppression of the virus continues. Washington is reporting a case rate of about 200 per 100,000 population, along the I-5 corridor, with Pierce County at a high of 300 new cases per 100,000, far above the metric that would allow restrictions to ease.
- Hospitalizations, however, have not significantly decreased. The past two weeks only saw a 7% drop. This new face of COVID-19 hospitalizations are primarily among younger persons, who are encountering the increased presence of the variants of concern, primarily the UK variant which is more easily transmitted. It is considered the”bully” form of COVID-19 infections. Washington State continues to see about 12 of it’s residents die each day from this virus.
- Jefferson County continues to see new case rates drop, with only 8 cases diagnosed in the last two weeks, giving us a new case rate of approximately 25 per 100,000 population. This makes our county among the lowest for new case rates per 100,000 in the state, as well as meeting the state metrics for successfully suppressing the virus and presents the eventuality of reducing restrictions.
- Neighboring counties continue to improve suppression of the virus as well. Clallam and Kitsap County currently have 71 and 145 new cases respectively per 100,000 population.
- Vaccinations have slowed statewide, currently about 47,000 inoculations a day, which exceeds the state goal of 45,000 a day, but is down from a higher number seen a few months ago. About 48% of residents in Washington have received at least one dose, with 39% fully vaccinated. By contrast, Jefferson County has 63% of its residents with at least one dose, while 57% are fully vaccinated. When considering those residents eligible in this county (16 years of age and older), 71% have at least one dose and 64% are fully vaccinated. This places our county in a good position to remove most pandemic restrictions by the end of June, if not before, in keeping with the intent of our Governor to end restrictions in this time period.
- Vaccine hesitancy remains the challenge. Although realistic about the likelihood of reaching 70-80% full vaccinations, health officials know there are still those residents who may not be able to be persuaded to get the vaccine. About 13% may consider the inoculation after watching and waiting for any risks the vaccine presents, with about 7% who may face an issue of access. About 14% of COVID-19 skeptics will not likely get the vaccine. To truly lessen the threat of any other waves, the desired goal of herd immunity needs to be 80% or higher.
- Masking, after the release of the CDC guidelines, continues to be confusing. Many counties statewide have individual masking mandates, especially for indoor public spaces. These mandates prevent unvaccinated, susceptible residents from congregating indoors in public spaces to prevent the further spread of the virus. As there is no practical way to consistently verify vaccination status for businesses, many counties will leave these masking mandates in place. Masked and unmasked within a closed indoor public space is more problematic than just having everyone mask up when indoors for the time being.
- Labor and Industry standards for public spaces and businesses were published this past week, providing more guidance. They allow fully vaccinated employees to drop the masks, when in spaces not accessible by the public. The business must verify vaccination status of all employees and keep records available for inspection.
- Dr. Locke pointed out the concern for those with a poor response to the vaccine, such as immune compromised, those receiving cancer treatments, taking a medication that suppresses the immune system, which comprises about 4% of the total population. Dr. Locke is currently evaluating indoor settings with no public access as to when and under what circumstances they can forgo masking.
- The statewide standard for relaxing pandemic restrictions requires 70% of those eligible to be fully vaccinated. Restrictions on indoor public spaces include masking as residents continue to get the vaccine, thus further slowing the spread of the virus. The benefits of more residents vaccinated is shown by the dramatic drop in new case rates. Infections will still be expected among those unvaccinated.
- Locally, Dr. Locke will be considering metrics for eliminating indoor masking in the next few weeks, gathering recommendations from King County health officials, as well as any concerns with our typical upcoming tourist season. He estimates masking will continue for the next 4-5 weeks, with guidance for specific situations outlined as we also try to encourage the hesitant to be vaccinated. He does not expect masking to continue in public access sites beyond June 30 for our state or local jurisdiction, except in high-risk environments like jails, long-term nursing homes, medical facilities, any form of public transportation, and schools. Labor and Industry standards allow the right of business owners to retain masking, even when state and local mandates have been discontinued.
- Incentives can play a role for those who are unvaccinated. Everything should be considered at this tipping period. Polling surveys reveal that a small portion of the unvaccinated will respond to incentives, especially when employers offer time off if a vaccinated employee has side effects from the inoculation. The risk to businesses is greater when there’s an outbreak such as reduction in staff availability, lost income, and disability among some employees who may have residual effects from a serious infection.
- Vaccination cards may well be a passport for certain activities in the near future. Dr. Locke recommends making copies of the CDC card and laminating the copy, as we will likely need boosters in the future to be recorded on the original card. Other avenues for documentation include a statewide program called MyIR.net, where a person can register their vaccination and keep a link to the website on smart devices. Labor and Industry have also promoted ways of acceptable verification of vaccine status, such as sworn statements, CDC vaccination cards, or alternate/replacement cards through the local health department, should you misplace or lose your card.
KPTZ listener’s questions:
- A commonality among the 5 local breakthrough cases was being over the age of 60 years, and mild symptomatic or asymptomatic COVID-19 infections. Statewide, 832 breakthrough infections have been diagnosed, with 10% hospitalized, all over the age of 60 years and predominantly mild disease course. Breakthrough cases have been discovered among recipients having received each one of the three vaccines available. The proportion of cases attributable to each vaccine may only reflect volume of use at this point in time. It does not indicate which one actually has the most breakthrough cases based on the manufacturer, as the nation is early in the use of all the available vaccines.
- The University of Washington is currently scaling up to conduct a surveillance study of antibodies for the state of Washington. It will begin soon and will ask random residents , through a postcard mailing, to volunteer for a simple blood draw, measuring antibodies acquired by natural infection or vaccination. The first round will include a mailing to 7,000 residents, followed by subsequent mailings. Jefferson County has been selected as part of the counties to receive postcard mailings.
- For those who opt for the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine, once you are 3 weeks post vaccination, the risk for possible development of blood clots is negligible, with most serious cases developing within one week of the inoculation. It is still not known if this vaccine may be the cause of this blood clotting condition, but it is suspicious in relation to the timing of receiving the vaccine and will be continually studied.
- The Johnson & Johnson manufacturer ran a clinical trial in South Africa and it was determined to protect against this variant of concern. It was found to have about 80% protection from a serious disease course. With continued mutations possible, future booster shots are expected to provide additional protection to account for the divergence of the original SARS-Cov-2 virus and will most likely target healthcare workers who were the first to receive these vaccines late last year.
- When schools have new COVID-19 infections, there are currently three models for handling the quarantine schedules, with associated risks. Schools with a 7-day requirement of quarantine, with a negative test, still have a 5% risk of having the infection spread. Schools with a 10-day period of quarantine and a negative test are considered adequate to really reduce transmission. Schools which have a 14-day period of quarantine with no test have the lowest risk of transmission, with under 1% of transmission.
Willie Bence, Director, Department of Emergency Management:
- Jefferson Healthcare ran its first dose clinic for 12-15 year-olds this last Wednesday, with about 200 doses given. The final dose for these residents will occur three weeks later.
- Onsite school clinics also were able to give 45 doses to students at Chimacum and Quilcene Schools this last week.
- Chimacum Saturday clinics gave 140 second doses on May 22 in the morning and 54 Johnson & Johnson doses in the afternoon. Traffic signs announcing walk-in opportunities for vaccines appear to have increased the convenience factor for some residents.
- This next Saturday a second-dose clinic at Brinnon is also offering either appointments or walk-in opportunities for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. We are looking for help in getting the word out about this upcoming event, as it may be the last time we will coordinate a clinic in this south county area.
- On June 5, we will coordinate a vaccine clinic at the local Farmers market in uptown, as well as have medical staff available to answer questions and concerns for those who may be hesitant to get the vaccine.
- The Department of Emergency Management and partners have currently served all those residents to date who wanted the vaccine, but were homebound. Mobile outreach could still be available to serve additional homebound residents if they call the Vaccine Phone Line to be placed on a list for a future clinic. Area residents should advise homebound residents of this opportunity and help them call 360-344-9791 to be placed on a list. When at least five residents in a close geographical area have been established, a clinic will be scheduled for a vaccination in their home with medical staff.