County Public Health Report ~ 3/01

Today, March 1, Jefferson County Public Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke shared his assessment of the pandemic in Jefferson County and answered questions submitted by KPTZ listeners. Department of Emergency Management Director Willie Bence also gave an update on current Emergency Operations actions, in light of the most recent developments.

Even though broadcast of the March 1, 2021 Public Health Briefings was incomplete, the entire segment is now included in this audio recording. 

  • We joined the update as Dr. Locke was discussing the progress and plans for getting schools back in session with all students present. Data for various in-person school programs shows that, even without teachers vaccinated, there is very little transmission among children younger than 10 years of age. The data shows that transmission occurs primarily among older students.
  • While no Centers for Disease Control (CDC) documents currently exist with details about gathering with other non-member households who have completed their vaccinations, they are expected when sufficient data regarding transmission patterns are reported in the process of re-opening.
  • And while some experts suggest non-member households, fully vaccinated, could gather together, there are reasons not to do this at this time. There are still many in our community who will not be able to get the vaccines for months as the supplies are still limited. Circulating variants, which are more easily transmitted, are doubling every 10 days and it is expected the UK mutated virus will soon be the dominant variant in Washington. Any mild symptomatic or asymptomatic new infection allows the virus a chance to mutate and spread to other susceptible persons. We are advised to continue the CDC recommendations. Dr. Locke described it as a race to vaccinate enough of our population, while at the same time, greatly suppressing the amount of circulating virus in the community.
  • The protection the current vaccines provide may be about one year. It is expected that we will need yearly booster shots, and that those will be adjusted for variant strains, similar to the yearly flu vaccine program. Re-engineering the proteins prominent in the circulating variants is easily facilitated by the technology used initially in developing these vaccines.
  • The need to vaccinate entire populations yearly means public health and healthcare institutions need to create a high-volume infrastructure to accomplish this goal.
  • While vaccinations are generally given through points of care and pharmacies, the volume of vaccinations needed would strain our current system. It will depend on how the pandemic plays out from here forward. The best scenario would be a steady decline in cases, mass vaccinations administered simultaneously, with good suppression of this virus, thus allowing traditional public health measures to further control the spread of outbreaks.
  • The other possible scenario might be that, as we reopen our economy, the virus continues to mutate and spread, especially in dense, urban areas, typical of the community spread characteristic of the three waves seen so far in this pandemic. Hence the phrase “Don’t let down your guard”.
  • The Governor is looking very carefully at signs of increased virus transmission as the state proceeds into Phase II of our Road Map to Recovery. With limited occupancy in indoor settings specified in Phase II, data regarding transmission is being carefully scrutinized. It may take a few weeks to see the effects of the reopening before planning for Phase III can be developed. The Governor is leary of re-opening too soon as cases decline, and then having to reverse progress made and imposing restrictions again. This cautionary stance has served Washington state well, placing us among those states with the lowest morbidity and mortality rates in the nation.
  • Regarding vaccination news, Dr. Locke announced this week that Jefferson Healthcare will be giving both first and second doses in the drive-thru clinic, which actually doubles the number of persons served. Vaccine allocations now number 1,170 doses for the first dose to Jefferson County, and are paired with a similar allocation for three weeks later, as well as the same amount for initial doses each week. When eligible for more than this amount, a mass vaccination site will be opened.
  • This week, the age band continues to drop for those eligible to be vaccinated, currently notifying those aged 67 years and older who have registered. Those in households with grandparents who are the legal guardians of their grandchildren, as well as those in households who care for a dependent elder are now also eligible. The legal guardians and elder caretakers need to be 50 years of age or older. They are directed to the Jefferson Healthcare website to register to be notified when a supply becomes available.

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

  • The vaccine call center now has a plan for those residents without an email address, WiFi, or computer access to schedule an appointment for a vaccination. Those in this category who are 65 years and older can call the phone line and a volunteer will make the arrangements. Individuals who are in multigenerational households 50 years and older, who are the legal guardians of their grandchildren, or a caretaker of an elder can also use this phone line to schedule a vaccination if they have limited access to the internet or a computer. Call 360-344-7971, Monday through Friday, 9am to 4pm for assistance.
  • As the age band drops lower, the phone assistance line remains in operation, with ongoing evaluation as to the need to remain open. For the foreseeable future, Mr. Bence sees it remaining open to assist those with limited internet and computer access.
  • Plans for a mass vaccination clinic continue to be developed with the county facing the limitations of a drive-thru clinic as vaccine allocations continue to increase and hold steady. Timing for this mass vaccination site again depends on available supplies and is anticipated to begin either near the end of this month and/or early next month.

Submit your Public Health questions to Dr. Tom Locke and to Willie Bence by emailing [email protected]. Note: The weekly deadline for these to be submitted is on Fridays at noon, to be answered at the following Monday’s BOCC meeting.