The following is a summary of the presentation during the Public Health briefings at this week’s Board of County Commissioners meeting made by Jefferson and Clallam County Public Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry, along with Dr. Tom Locke, who has stepped back to serve as Deputy Public Health Office. Also Willie Bence, Director, Director of Emergency Management, gave a report. The summary was provided by and used with the permission of Jefferson County Government.
County Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry this morning told Commissioners that “the news is not getting better” regarding COVID-19. “There are a few key things for the public to know,” said Dr. Berry. “We are seeing really incredible rises in cases, really unprecedented numbers in our region. We’ve never seen anything like this before – 80% of the virus we send through sequencing now comes back as Delta variant, which is dramatically more transmissible than the COVID-19.”
She said it is also more severe. “We’re seeing younger people get hospitalized,” Dr. Berry said. “And we’re seeing a higher proportion of people who get infected getting hospitalized. We’re also seeing just a shocking amount of disease.”
Testing capacity at Jefferson Healthcare is increasing to meet the surge in demand which has risen six-fold. There are some supply-chain issues, however, with delays in shipments of tests from the state. Of COVID-19 tests in Clallam County, the present positivity is 10%. She said she doesn’t have those numbers today for Jefferson, but estimates one in 10 people who go to get tested are positive.
Jefferson Healthcare has its drive-through testing open, and is offering tests for pick-up. The County Health Department will also be offering test kits in Port Townsend as well as in South County soon. As of this morning, Jefferson’s case numbers are 235 per 100,000. We’ve crossed the 200 mark, and have up to 597 cases so far in this response. Dr. Berry explained, “There are two main tools that we have to use: one is getting vaccinated and the other is wearing a mask, and so that is why, on Friday, I issued a mask mandate for Jefferson and Clallam counties for all indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status.”
With the Delta variant, six feet of social separation may not be enough both indoors or outdoors or if “people are screaming or yelling or singing.” She said in adults, the variant is spread across six feet in indoor spaces. “Just being six feet apart from someone else is not enough,” Dr. Berry said. “We’re truly seeing aerosol spread. We’re seeing large-scale viral loads when we look at the church outbreaks that we’ve seen; we’re seeing it travel far beyond six feet in those places.
“Having some space between you and other people makes a difference,” she continued. “Having a mask on makes a difference. Airflow makes a difference. If you need to go into an indoor environment where people are going to be closer together, really think about ventilation; think about opening windows. There is nothing that is 100% safe, except for staying in your own household, but I do think we need socialization in our life to be healthy. And so what I would recommend, if you’re fully vaccinated: you can gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people.”
Director of Emergency Management (DEM) Willie Bence reported that the community masking program is being revitalized. The county’s mask makers are back sewing again, helping to build up the stock of cloth masks. They’re available yet again through DEM, grocery stores, small businesses, and wherever you might be. Bence said not to hesitate to reach out. “We’re happy to drop those off and make those available. This helps protect the stock of N95 surgical masks that are on hand.”
Cloth masks and hand sanitizer are also available through the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce (you don’t have to be a member). The Quilcene School Vaccination Clinic will be held Monday, August 23 from 11am to 1pm. It’s the Pfizer vaccine, available for kids 12 years and older. It’s open to anyone but it can be targeted at students in the south county area – both Quilcene and Brinnon. Appointments are available by calling: 360-344-9791. The Quilcene clinic is a partnership between DEM and the Tri-Area Pharmacy.
More clinics are being scheduled later this month and at the beginning of September. Bence also emphasized that if anyone has any questions about COVID-19 or testing, the COVID-19 Information Line is still up and running: 360-344-9791.
Submit your Public Health questions to Dr. Allison Berry 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.