County Public Health Report ~ 12/21

Public Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke shared an update regarding the pandemic picture in Jefferson County: The national picture continues to show certain region experiencing steep increase in new infections, while other regions’ new cases are slowing. The South and Southwest U.S. are experiencing the greatest increase in new infections. Overall, new infections are up 10% over the last two weeks and the deaths continue. Washington’s cases are plateauing, with new cases slowing. Hospitalization use is at an all time high. Counties surrounding Jefferson continue to be higher than state guidelines for suppression of the virus, but beginning to slow. Jefferson County stands at 59.6 per 100,000 population, down from the last update and 2-3% of all tests are positive.

Vaccines arrived in Jefferson County last Tuesday. 975 doses, about half of which have been administered, came on Tuesday. Appointments continue to be made for those on the priority list. Priority categories can be viewed on the Washington State Department of Health website. Prioritizations initially are issued from the CDC as well as state and local entities as needed. Dr. Locke estimates about 1 million persons will step forward to be vaccinated by the end of February 2021.

Approaching the end-of-year holidays, Dr. Locke reminds us that we have not yet seen the worst of the winter surge. Locally our behavior over the Thanksgiving holiday changed enough to avoid a community surge. Cases continue to be primarily among those who mix household members or who receive visitors from outside our county, who unknowing infect those household members. Restricting movement among members of different households is easier and needs to continue to avoid a surge that could appear after the holidays. See the recommendations on the JC Public Health website. Testing for travel is still limited in Jefferson County. Washington will begin a program for vouchers for COVID-19 testing through Walgreens.

Answers to questions from KPTZ listeners:

  • After traveling, it is not necessary to forgo scheduled medical or dental visits, except when receiving invasive dental procedures. Discuss with your provider.
  • Suicides are thought to rise during the holidays, when in fact, they do not. What does increase is drinking, anxiety and drug use.
  • COVID-19 theoretically can be introduced to your eyes and travel to your nose, where it gains entry to your body, but is typically inhaled through the nose.
  • The amounts of vaccine doses shipped to each state are based on the percent of the population present in each priority group established by the CDC. It is a description of those at highest risk of serious disease and exposure. Local counties have some leeway to adjust the hierarchy. Review by a consortium of experts on vaccine safety for the western states will not hold up distribution to our state.
  • Two-thirds of coronavirus negative tests are primarily taken when someone has symptoms or has exposure to a positive case. One-third are taken for those undergoing pre-procedure testing. No influenza has been seen in Jefferson County to date.
  • Improvement in health outcomes for serious COVID-19 disease has come from improved clinical management. Newer FDA-approved drugs have made modest improvements. Masking appears to reduce infectious viral dose.
  • To avoid recurring surges, masking needs to improve. Trend toward more aggressive enforcement of masking and a possible ban on face shields for improved source control may be on the horizon. Discussions are also looking at strategies for enforcement of store capacity to reduce spread.
  • COVID-19 tests for travel and families who want small gatherings are limited. Other options are purchasing test kits in stores or online.
  • Vaccinations stimulate your body to react to the presence of a virus or bacteria. Current vaccines for COVID-19 prevent progression to serious clinical illness, as measured in the randomized clinical trials. Both Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will provide 95% protection of stopping the virus from sufficiently reproducing. Infectiousness of individuals after they got the vaccine and got infected were not studied in the trial, but are underway. Assume that 5% of the population who gets the vaccine and gets the virus can spread the virus, as the vaccine was not protective enough to stop the virus from rapidly reproducing.
  • Continued masking is critical as the vaccine fails in about 5% of those getting the shot. We also need to get about 60-70% of the population inoculated to sufficiently suppress circulation of the virus.
  • There is no need to have anyone test for previous COVID-19 infection as determined by antibody tests. The degree of protection from natural infection is variable. Vaccines may be better protection than natural infection. It’s not a problem to get the vaccine if they have concurrent asymptomatic infection. If symptomatic, the advice is to have symptoms clear before getting the vaccine.
  • New strains appear because viruses are always mutating, especially the COVID-19. The new strain seen in England and South Africa has been under the radar of scientists since September of this year. It appears to facilitate faster spread as evidenced in the change in the R naught number, 1.1 to 1.5. It appears to be 70% more effective in spreading quickly. Mutations rarely affect vaccine effectiveness. New mRNA technology makes adapting vaccines easier.
  • All vaccines have expected and well documented side effects. More serious adverse events have been seen with these vaccines such as anaphylactic shock. This reaction has been seen before and is treatable. With more individuals vaccinated, we will discover more rare adverse events, but the important word is “rare”.
  • The Department of Emergency Management does not currently have a role in vaccine distribution or rollout at this time; They will follow the lead actions as determined by Jefferson Healthcare and the Public Health Officer, Dr. Tom Locke.

There will be no BOCC Public Health update on December 28th. They are in recess and will return January 4, 2021.

Submit your Public Health questions to Dr. Tom Locke by emailing