County Public Health Report ~ 5/10

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, May 10, 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.

General comments: 

  • Nationally, the pandemic picture indicates a cresting and decrease in the recent wave of new cases, dropping about 30% from the previous two weeks. Hospitalizations are also dropping due to the diminishing cases in hard hit states like Michigan and Minnesota.
  • Washington continues to see new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. We rank 10th in the nation for new case rates per 100,000. We experienced a slight decrease (4%) in cases for the last two weeks, but also saw hospitalizations increase 7% and a 22% increase in deaths. This suggests that a cresting for our state may occur near the second or third week of May and hence the reason for holding off on any decision to return as many a ten counties to Phase II of the RoadMap to Recovery Plan by Governor Inslee. If we are about to hit the peak of new cases for Washington, in conjunction with more of the state’s population initiating or completing their vaccine series, we may be able to avoid any additional economic or social restrictions.
  • Jefferson County ranks among the lowest in new cases at 62.7 per 100,000, remaining stable from the previous two weeks. We have had 20 new COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks, with three cases seen in younger children. These cases in children were infected by an adult member of the household who had tested positive. Going forward, Dr. Locke said this is likely the future epidemiological picture with higher attack rates, among persons infected when exposed to household members, especially pediatric cases.
  • Greater transmissibility among variants of concern also contributes to higher attack rates, particularly with younger children, as has been seen in Clallam County after three large outbreaks. Clallam remains stable with 108 new cases per 100,00 and Kitsap has neared the threshold for the RoadMap to Recovery plan at 196 per 100,000 population.
  • On the vaccine front: locally, statewide, and nationally the number of doses delivered into arms has subsided from an average of 3.5 million a day down to about 2 million a day. One-third of the nation is fully vaccinated and 46% have received at least the first dose, meaning that supply is beginning to outpace demand. Washington ranks 17th in the nation with 51% fully vaccinated. Now is the time to begin outreach to (1) populations who find it problematic to schedule a vaccine appointment due to job and family commitments, (2) those who are still trying to weigh the risks against the benefits of getting vaccinated, and finally (3) those who have a specific objections or a political perspective that would not likely be influenced by anyone.
  • To this end, the strategies for delivering shots needs to change. Currently, Jefferson HealthCare will not be scheduling any more drive-through clinics, but continuing those clinics for second doses only. Teens will have more opportunities for vaccinations in the coming weeks, with recent clinics onsite at Chimacum and Quilcene school sites. Mass vaccinations at Chimacum Schools continue this weekend with completion of second doses and an afternoon (1-2:30pm) clinic for Johnson & Johnson.
  • Homebound residents have been able to get the vaccine through the assistance of a mobile clinic supported by the state. The mobile clinic continues to seek residents who can not easily leave home. Call the COVID Vaccine Phone Line (360-344-9791) to place these residents on a list to receive the vaccine in their homes.
  • Multi dose vials will continue as there is a worldwide shortage of the specialized glass that is required for vaccine vials. This also poses the problem of needing at least 10 to 14 individuals to receive the vaccine when a diluent is added in preparation for administration. If not used within a specified time, the vaccine is wasted. Single-use vials are not practical at this time due to the glass shortage, so the strategy will begin to focus on small clusters of unique populations with more convenient times and settings to achieve the herd immunity goal of 70% fully vaccinated residents. As we near this goal, health care facilities may be less impacted, as well as a drop off of disease activity. Gatherings will likely increase with fewer restrictions, but pose a problem for those who remain unvaccinated.
  • A long-awaited announcement this week by the CDC and WHO has formally acknowledged the airborne transmission of this virus. This has ramifications for any public indoor space which allows groups of people for activities. It may require indoor public spaces to revamp indoor ventilation measures as infectious respiratory particles as small as 100 microns can travel easily within that space and beyond. Normal conversational activities and socialization when someone is infected can easily spread indoors and expose those unvaccinated. So when masking and social distancing are discontinued, the unvaccinated will face the greatest risk of exposure and infection without significant adaptations of the ventilation systems for indoor public spaces.
  • Jefferson County is the first county statewide to exceed 50% of its residents being fully vaccinated, with 61% receiving at least one dose. For those actually eligible – 16+ years and older – 67.2% are fully vaccinated. Dr. Locke thanked all the organizations and volunteers who supported this effort.
  • The FDA and APIC are expected to endorse the Emergency Use Authorization for 12-15 year olds for the Pfizer vaccine this week. As soon as the endorsement is made public, this county will begin plans for clinics and sites to vaccinate this new population. This age band constitutes approximately 1,000 residents and the county is eager to get them vaccinated to ease the return to an in-person educational experience. It is unlikely that the western area consortium for vaccine review will delay this process of getting the vaccine into arms, as they usually work quickly to review the safety data independently.
  • The coronavirus is expected to be endemic worldwide, never really disappearing. It will be treated like influenza as it correlates with winter infections and thrives best when humidity is low and most residents retreat indoors in crowded spaces. With a higher percent of vaccinated residents, outbreaks will not require economic or social restrictions. It is expected that fully vaccinated persons will face fewer restrictions than unvaccinated persons.

KPTZ listener’s questions:

  • India’s situation was catastrophic and preventable, when leadership failed to understand the severity and seriousness of this disease and thus failed to act.
  • With anticipation of more in-person family visits, what safety practices to use depends on the vaccination status of those gathering. Exclude members who are ill or recently exposed to a known case. And if someone has recently traveled, make use of the home tests currently available before meeting in person. If everyone is fully vaccinated, there is little reason to use any precautions like masking or socially distancing. If relatives or friends travel, include extra days before gathering to monitor health for 5-7 days and use the home tests to rule out active infection. Outdoor gatherings are safer with precautions if time is limited for the visit.
  • Vaccination rates among health care staff are less than ideal (under 80%) at this time, however, mandatory vaccinations may be instituted when vaccines become fully approved by the FDA in the near future. Local numbers of vaccinated health care staff are not available.
  • Asking your dentist and staff if they are vaccinated is a reasonable question, as their status could impact your health. They are not required to answer your inquiry, however. If they continue to use full precautions, this is still a safer environment to receive services.
  • If you have family members who are refusing to get vaccinated, don’t give up. Instead, emphasize the positive aspects that come when more of the community is fully vaccinated, such as: greater choices for travel, protection for others, escaping serious infection and hospitalization, and solid safety data with millions receiving a variety of vaccine platforms. Long-term information can’t be given for a pandemic only 15 months old, with new vaccines, but there is no reason to doubt our experience with other vaccines.
  • Vaccinations for persons with a recent infection of COVID-19 should ideally wait 28 days after resolution of the infection before receiving an inoculation. If you choose a two-dose vaccine, be sure to get both doses on the schedule recommended.
  • Dr. Locke is of the opinion that the notion that this vaccine affects one’s menstrual cycle may be a way to scare women, as we have no data to suggest this phenomenon. This question was not part of the vaccine drug trials. It is known that the uterus is connected to the immune system, as is every organ which might become infected. Short-term changes in your menses can be observed from stress and lack of appropriate nutrition, but studies are lacking regarding any impact on fertility. What IS known is the risk to pregnant women who experienced COVID-19 infection. It is a serious disease, with women experiencing complications at a much higher rate than women who are not pregnant. Women can safely get vaccinated during pregnancy, the sooner, the better.

Willie Bence, Director, Department of Emergency Management(DEM):

  • This week, the Department of Emergency Management (DEM) conducted vaccination clinics for 16 and 17 year olds at Chimacum and Quilcene school sites using the Pfizer vaccine. Students this age will have other opportunities soon to get this vaccine as additional clinics will be planned.
  • DEM is partnering with the state’s Mobile Clinic staff to offer vaccinations to those housed at the American Legion and the Fairground homeless residents. Selection of the type of vaccine will be determined by each resident based on their preference for either the one-dose or two-dose series.
  • DEM and JC Public Health staff continue to serve up second doses at Chimacum Schools on Saturday, May 15 and May 22 in the morning. Johnson & Johnson vaccines are available by appointments or on a walk-in basis this Saturday from 1-2:30pm at Chimacum Schools.
  • Transition to walk-in clinics versus appointments has been complicated by strict guidelines not to waste doses of the limited supply of vaccines early in this process. At this time, wastage is less of a priority than getting shots into arms, so movement toward more walk-in and point-of-service availability is becoming the norm.
  • As we await approval from the FDA for 12-15 year olds for the Pfizer vaccine, plans are being made to inoculate this new age band. A host of ideas are being looked at to meet residents at gathering places such as churches, watering holes, and points of common gathering, with the assistance of Main Street, business contacts, and community events.
  • Anyone with questions or having trouble finding or securing an appointment should call the DEM COVID Vaccine Phone Line at 360-344-97912 for assistance.