County Public Health Report ~ 5/17

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.

Today, May 17, 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 continued decrease in new COVID-19 cases, dropping 33% from the previous two weeks, with hospitalizations dropping by 17%. Death rates have also dropped by 13%.
  • While the trend in metrics for new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are decreasing nationwide, our state is dropping at a slower rate, ranking us higher on the list of states compared to others. Due to the slower decrease, we are now ranked 6th in the nation, with only an 11% decrease in new cases and a 5% drop in deaths per 100,000 population. That amounts to 10 Washington residents still dying every day.
  • Washington’s case rate is 244 per 100,000 population, with the greatest number of cases along the I-5 corridor, in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties.
  • Of note, this week the CDC announced the results of several studies which continue to demonstrate the efficacy of the vaccines. These studies reveal the vaccines continue to prevent serious disease, hospitalization, and nearly 100% protection from death. Those who do contract the infection tend to have a mild course of the disease or asymptomatic infections, with a lower viral load and hence less risk of transmission to others. These infections are called “breakthrough infections” and are expected, as the vaccines are designed primarily to protect you from the most serious consequences of COVID-19 infections. With little risk of severe outcomes and the added benefit of significantly reducing transmission to others when fully vaccinated, new guidelines regarding restrictions and masking are possible at this point in time.
  • While the research supports new guidelines, every state and local health officer will be evaluating their mandates.
  • To this end, Governor Inslee announced Wednesday that all counties, subject to continued decreasing case metrics, will be able to be in Phase III of the RoadMap to Recovery plan by June 30, if not before. Another metric signaling progress toward fewer restrictions and less masking will be our collective efforts to have at least 70% of those eligible for the vaccine to be inoculated with at least one dose of the vaccine, as well as having 10% capacity or more in our ICU units.
  • With the announcement from the CDC pronouncing that those fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks, with certain exceptions, the Governor will now re-evaluate the current mandates in place for this state. Current mandates require masking inside stores and restaurants, denial of service without a mask, and capacity limitations. Each state and territorial health officer will now evaluate their local mandates in light of the research findings. They will take into consideration their local epidemic, as well as labor and industry organizations in trying to rewrite new guidelines and mandates in line with the most current research findings.
  • Jefferson County will maintain the required mandate issued one year ago (May 28, 2020) for masking indoors, as there is no viable way for store owners to reliably check the vaccination status of patrons. Dr. Locke will also update the types of masks that provide the greatest protection from infection.
  • After consultation with other area health officers, Dr. Locke will likely suspend using masks when outdoors as increasing herd immunity rises and new data suggests fewer transmissions occur outdoors, whether vaccinated or not. He added that when there are gatherings indoors among fully vaccinated persons, no mask will be required, with the onus on the hosts to verify the status of attendees. The advantage to those fully vaccinated can be seen as masks and social distancing are not required when attending spectator events outdoors as well no masking and social distancing for smaller indoor gatherings.
  • Deciphering what activities under specific conditions where mask wearing would not be a problem remains a challenge, as not all residents can take vaccines or are currently eligible. We continue to diagnose cases weekly, with segments of our residents hesitant to get the shot, as well as safety and efficacy trials still in progress for children 12 years and younger. It is not currently safe for those still unvaccinated to gather indoors without a mask. It will simply prolong the pandemic if we all dropped masking at this point.
  • Our current challenge is getting vaccination rates increased, as we are not at the finish line yet. Polls regarding incentives for getting the vaccine do not rely on perks for the fully vaccinated crowd, but rather personal incentives, whether they be access to a medical advisor, monetary incentives or prizes, or simply having the vaccine available at your local drinking establishment, or a discount on your groceries if you get the vaccine. So the goal is now to provide new opportunities for vaccinations with advice from trusted family, medical or faith leaders joining the efforts. This pandemic will not be over until 80-85% of all residents are vaccinated, including children who could remain the reservoir for infections.
  • Jefferson County continues to maintain one of the lowest case rates in the state at 50 cases per 100,000 population, down from 63 cases per 100,000 the prior two week period. Neighboring Clallam County is at 109 cases per 100,000, while Kitsap has declined to 177 cases per 100,000.
  • Vaccines rates have been rising slowly, however, and demand has dropped, even with ample supplies of the vaccines. Jefferson County is nearing suggested herd immunity with nearly 70% of eligible residents fully vaccinated.
  • The mRNA vaccine platforms appear to be protective against the variants of concern (VOC). There is not, at this time, data addressing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine with regard to the vaccine’s protection against the VOC’s.
  • Dr. Locke responded to one of the inquiries made by a constituent regarding allowing children to play together in an outdoor setting. He stated this is not really problematic and interacting outdoors is safer than previously believed, even among unvaccinated children.
  • Dr. Locke also mentioned the expectation of breakthrough infections (new infection 14 days after full vaccination) among a NYC baseball team with 8 cases among fully vaccinated players. Unlike most populations, sports teams are regularly tested for COVID-19, otherwise most of the time, these infections would not be detected, as they are mild or an asymptomatic disease course. Small outbreaks do not justify specific restrictions, as the risk to others is not zero, but low, and not a public health threat. Jefferson County has documented 5 cases of breakthrough infections among fully vaccinated persons.

KPTZ listener’s questions:

  • The new CDC guidelines maintain that masking will remain necessary on all modes of public transportation, in hospital settings, clinics, and long-term-care facilities. Those fully vaccinated do not require masks when outside. While indoors, continue to follow all state and local mask mandates. We will essentially stay masked until we have sufficient protective herd immunity.
  • An employer can inquire as to an employee’s vaccination status and with permission post the percent of employees vaccinated. Employees are not under any obligation to respond to the request. As an example, the public health staff in Kitsap County under Dr. Morrow has posted that 90% of employees have been fully vaccinated.
  • Home testing kits for COVID-19 are available and cost about $20 for a package of two tests. Compared to the gold standard PCR test, these home kits are about 64% accurate when you have symptoms and about 34% accurate in the absence of symptoms. The manufacturer’s literature states it’s correct 80% of the time. These types of tests are not useful as a screening tool, but may be the most helpful when you are experiencing COVID-19-like symptoms. Results from these tests are not reported to the local health department, but you are advised to contact public health for advice and management of symptoms.
  • The connection of the blood clotting cases with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been reported among one man and 27 women sometime after receiving that vaccine. This is a rare occurrence in the general public, rare among 8.7 million doses of the vaccine given to date, and is connected to a drug called heparin, used to thin blood when a person develops blood clots. Some people experience the reverse reaction, and the blood clots more from an unwanted immune response after receiving heparin. A pause in the use of the vaccine allowed the manufacturers and the FDA to issue new guidelines for use in certain populations who may experience this reaction.
  • Another point of misinformation: there is no need to isolate when you receive any vaccination for COVID-19, as there is no virus in any of the vaccines to cause an actual infection, so you will not be “shedding” any virus. As the vaccine begins to make antibodies, you are actually safer to be around. The vaccine simply induces your immune system to make antibodies to the coronavirus as a practice run. We know this is true because those who receive the vaccine do not test positive for the coronavirus.

Willie Bence, Director, Department of Emergency Management:

  • Last Saturday, Jefferson Healthcare held a drive-thru clinic for 12-17 year olds to get the Pfizer vaccine. This came after Pfizer was granted Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA last week for 12-15 year olds, creating a huge demand. Another Pfizer clinic will be held this week on Wednesday through Jefferson Healthcare for the same age group. Appointments can be made online or by calling the COVID-19 Vaccine Phone Line at 360-344-979, M-F from 9-5pm. Jefferson Healthcare will continue their clinics for 2nd doses, and will discontinue this operation site soon. They may keep the site available for clinics as new age groups periodically become eligible.
  • Additional clinics targeting this age group will occur sometime in May in Chimacum, Brinnon, and Quilcene. On May 29, Brinnon will be the site for second doses with the Moderna vaccine. It is expected that the J & J vaccine will also be available for that day.
  • Second doses continue to be given at Chimacum Schools in the morning, with a large clinic held this past Saturday and another scheduled for May 22. J & J will be available in the afternoon by appointment or as walk-ups. Medical consultation has been added as a feature of these clinics for residents who would like to speak with medical staff when considering getting a vaccination.
  • Moving forward in June will involve sites through new community partnerships, which would for some residents improve access, along with incentives. These sites may include the Saturday Farmer’s Market, a site in the south of the county, and other businesses.
  • If you have any questions or want to know where to get a vaccination, please call the COVID-19 Vaccine Phone Line at 360-344-9791, M-F from 9-5pm and a volunteer will assist you. Leave a message if you are not able to speak with the volunteer staff.
  • The community mask makers are still producing masks and can be picked up at several community sites. Thank you to Jane, who leads this effort, as well as all the mask makers and other volunteers. Our masks are still needed to protect employees who work indoors, until more residents are vaccinated.