Today, April 12, 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.
- The national picture continues to demonstrate a steady increase of new infections, with a daily average of 69,000 new cases reported each day. This current peak is higher than the peak in new cases last summer, demonstrating a failure to significantly lower the circulation of this virus. The states hardest hit are midwest and eastcoast states. Hospitalizations are increasing as well, with a 32% increase from the previous two weeks. Those hospitalized are younger residents between the age of 40-50 years, a departure from the morbidity seen among older residents in the beginning of the pandemic – clearly a protective effect from vaccinations among this older age group. This translates into a decline of the death rate of 27% over the last two weeks.
- The recent rise in new cases in Washington is driven by the presence of variants of concern, primarily two homegrown strains from California, B.1.427 and B.1.429, circulating within this state since November and December of 2020, respectively. These strains account for 50% of the new cases in this state. The UK variants continue to circulate here, accounting for nearly 34% of cases sequenced, doubling every 12 days, and expected to account for the majority of the new cases by the end of April.
- All the new strains pose a challenge to containing this pandemic as is evidenced with outbreaks recorded in British Columbia to our north. Although the US/Canada border is closed to recreational travel, commercial travel still continues to be a potential for further spread into our state of these variants of concern. All the newly documented strains are more infectious as well as being able to evade the vaccine’s effectiveness.
- Jefferson County recorded 10 new cases last week; including 7 cases the previous week, this brings our new case rate to 53.29 per 100,000 population, which doubles our rate from the previous two weeks. Our case positivity remains below 1%, most likely an artifact of less testing among residents of this county. This does impact surveillance efforts, thus the need to repeat recommendations isolate and to seek COVID-19 testing after 7 days of the onset of any respiratory symptoms, as well as seeking testing 3-5 days after travel to an area with increasing new case rates.
- Surrounding counties are recording increased new cases as well. Clallam is reporting 87 new cases per 100,000 population with 5.4% positivity of those seeking testing. Kitsap has risen to 144 new cases per 100,000 population and reports 6.1% new case positivity.
- The RoadMap to Recovery used by the Governor to move forward with our economic recovery relies on two metrics that signifies the collective containment of this virus, as well as our capacity to manage and contain outbreaks and clusters of new infections. Both new case rates and hospitalizations are assessed every three weeks for all counties. Failure to meet the thresholds for large and small county metrics may push some counties back to the previous phase for a temporary period. Currently, any county failing either of these two metrics may expect to be pushed back to a prior phase, however, many health officers are asking that failure of both metrics be the standards from this point forward. This current method, they believe, unfairly impacts smaller counties, putting thresholds so high, so as to have the local spread get out of control before thresholds are met and state restrictions are imposed. Other states, like Michigan, have seen outbreaks coinciding with increased capacity at sporting events and indoor dining, placing residents at risk of infection, especially those who are unvaccinated. A group of Health Officers from smaller counties is sending a letter to Governor Inslee regarding this issue. The fact remains that the authority to impose restrictions to control the spread of new cases lies with the local county health officer, under current laws.
- This is a critical issue of timing, with about two more months of intensive efforts to get more residents vaccinated before returning to more activities indoors or large group gatherings as allowed in Phase III, thus preventing widespread transmission of the coronavirus. With daunting logistical measures, Washington has given more than 4 million doses of vaccine, with nearly a third of residents receiving one dose and 21% fully vaccinated. Jefferson and Clallam remain among the counties with the highest efficiency of getting their residents vaccinated. Jefferson has 51.6% of its population receiving at least one dose and 36.7% fully vaccinated. Clallam ranks second in these efforts.
- Vaccine dose supplies will remain flat for the next few weeks, although our capacity to vaccinate residents exceeds our current allocations. The Johnson&Johnson vaccine experienced a manufacturing error at a plant pending FDA approval and has delayed delivery of 65 million doses, so states can expect a nearly 80% reduction in expected supplies. These doses were expected to be used for pop-up clinics in many counties, so these clinics will be on hold until supplies increase.
- The targeted pop-up clinic in Quilcene this past weekend provided 123 vaccinations to its residents, with more specific geographical areas slated for the future, such as Brinnon. These clinics are all staffed by volunteers and can provide about up to 300 doses in about three hours. These special clinics are likely to be planned for the time period when greater numbers of vaccine supplies are coming in May.
- Don’s Pharmacy is receiving about 100 J&J doses as they join the organizations giving vaccinations. TriArea Pharmacy and Jefferson Healthcare continue to provide Moderna for their clinics, as well as J&J allotment to the S’Klallam Tribe now being shared with Jefferson Healthcare for their drive-thru clinics. The J&J vaccine is especially favored by younger residents, who like the convenience of just one shot. Additional clinics in Port Angeles and Sequim are scheduled in an inter-county effort to get the Olympic Peninsula upwards of the needed 70-80% fully vaccinated rates which would confer herd immunity. Residents are encouraged to get vaccinations in either county as soon as appointments are listed.
- An additional clinic is scheduled this week with the Pfizer vaccine approved for persons 16 and 17 years old. Although counties are not receiving Pfizer vaccine supplies at this time, a supply of vaccines has been stockpiled as extra doses are being put into vials and they have been reserved for this age range. This company was the only manufacturer to use this age range in their clinical drug trials.
- More young persons will be able to get vaccines over the summer as more manufacturing companies conduct clinical trials for younger age groups and begin to apply to the FDA for Emergency Use Authorization for these younger subjects. Preliminary results show the same safety and efficacy data seen in the adult clinical trials. It is critical to get this population vaccinated with the necessity of students to return to school in person and the increased circulation of more transmissible viral variants.
- Today at 2:30pm, Governor Inslee will announce the plans for any rollback to Phase II for those counties who do not meet the adjusted metrics. Dr. Locke reminded us that we have one chance to respond to rising metrics, and if we wait, we have to take more drastic measures to bring down high case rates, which just prolongs the pandemic. He praised the Governor for his leadership, given the complications of this pandemic. Washington has fared better than other states given his leadership and recommendations from public health officials.
- Vaccine hesitancy continues to be an issue for our state’s efforts to reach herd immunity, with outreach to those who are waiting outcomes for those who have received the vaccine. Messages need to target those who have reservations. Research shows that trusted medical staff are good persuaders for the hesitant. For those whose world view intertwines vaccinations with other life views, persuasion is less useful, no matter where it comes from. This tends to be 5-10% of the population.
- Dr. Locke reminded us of the phenomenon of “long haulers” – those with long-lasting, troublesome aftereffects of COVID-19 infections. This is an important reason to get the vaccine as this is not benign illness. Some people – 10-30% – experience debilitating symptoms, such as cardiac complications, from getting a COVID-19 illness. Vaccines can prevent this and have been deemed better protection than getting the disease naturally. In general, preventing the disease is better than getting the disease. If we prevent infection and disease, long-hauler incidence will also decrease, relieving further suffering.
- Dr. Locke mentioned a KPTZ program he recorded this past weekend to be aired this coming week, so check the KPTZ website for opportunities to listen to the recording.
Willie Bence, Director, Department of Emergency Management:
- Mr. Bence stated that the Quilcene pop-up clinic this last weekend served 123 residents with the J&J vaccine supplied through the TriArea Pharmacy and staffed by volunteers. More of these types of clinics are planned for Brinnon and areas with a high concentration of Spanish-speaking residents. The mass clinic scheduled for this coming weekend at Chimicum Schools on April 17 has about 19 slots left for first-dose vaccinations. Second doses will be given in the morning, with first doses given in the afternoon. Call the Emergency Management COVID-19 Vaccine Phone Line to schedule -360-344-9791.
- Volunteers are still being recruited, as the effort to vaccinate everyone who wants a vaccine will take more months to accomplish. Currently, over 250 volunteers, medical and non-medical persons staff all the clinics. To get these vaccinations accomplished, a huge reserve of volunteers are needed to prevent exhausting anyone and taking turns to staff clinics.
- Still needed are medical staff who once had a license in Washington, active or inactive. Non-medical volunteers are needed for traffic control, computer experience, logistics, set-ups, customer service, or the vaccine phone line. Commitment for a few months is important as this is a monumental task and requires regular attendance when you sign up.
- Currently, background checks are being conducted on those who recently applied and the DEM is trying to catch up, so please be patient with the process. But you will be needed for this massive task.