County Public Health Report ~ 8/23

The following is a summary of the presentation during the Public Health briefings at this week’s Board of County Commissioners meeting made by Jefferson and Clallam County Public Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry, along with Dr. Tom Locke, who has stepped back to serve as Deputy Public Health Office. Also Willie Bence, Director, Director of Emergency Management, gave a report. The summary was provided by and used with the permission of Jefferson County Government.

Note: The next scheduled BOCC meeting will be held Tuesday, September 7 beginning at 9am. The COVID-19 briefing by County Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry and Department of Emergency Management Willlie Bence will begin at 9:45am.

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry this morning announced that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine today, August 23. This is the first full approval for a COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. The full approval for Pfizer-BioNTech includes people 16 years of age or older, but children ages 12 to 15 can still receive the vaccine under emergency authorization. Moderna has also applied for full approval, but Johnson & Johnson has not yet applied (both have emergency use authorizations).

“Now is a “great time to go out and get that vaccine,” Dr. Berry said. She emphasized that besides getting vaccinated, the biggest thing you can do if you aren’t is to wear a mask. “Wearing a mask really does make an incredible difference in reducing transmission of COVID-19,” she said. “We don’t see breakthrough infections in that kind of context and we don’t actually see any infections in that kind of context. We’re still not seeing cases where masked people are spreading COVID-19 between each other. “It really makes a huge difference in reducing transmission.”

Dr. Berry clarified indoor versus outdoor transmission probability. She said we are still not seeing transmission under normal circumstances in outdoor spaces, “It’s very safe to be outside,” she noted. “The only times that we’ve seen outdoor transmission is in these really packed, close spaces — so mosh pits and  large festivals where people were really really close together outside. Otherwise, we really don’t see outdoor transmission, so your standard outdoor gatherings are very safe.” That changes when the event comes indoors.

“It can get really risky,” Dr. Berry warns.”So the biggest thing to think about if you’re planning an outdoor gathering is making sure there is no point in the day, where it becomes an indoor gathering.”

Jefferson County’s current COVID-19 case rate is 263 per 100,000 — the highest we’ve ever experienced, according to Dr. Berry. “Our total number of cases is 640 — that’s 84 actually, just in the last two weeks,” Dr. Berry explained. “It kind of gives you an idea of what we’re looking at. The numbers in Jefferson are always a little tricky to break down because we have a small population, and blessedly a small number of COVID cases, because we are so well vaccinated and Jefferson County residents have been doing a really good job, by and large, with following pandemic protocols.”

She said key takeaways are that we’re seeing the highest rates of viral transmission in our community are exclusively the Delta variant in our sequencing at this point. Now is “a really risky time to spend a long time in indoor spaces, especially if you are unvaccinated.” If you are vaccinated, she said it is important to know we have never seen transmission between vaccinated people in an indoor space with masks on. “It’s still very reasonable to put on a mask, go to the grocery store, do those kinds of things. But if you are unvaccinated I would highly encourage you to get vaccinated right away,” she said.

“The biggest thing that we all can do besides getting vaccinated if you aren’t, is wearing a mask,”Dr. Berry said.” Both parties wearing a mask really does make an incredible difference in reducing transmission of COVID-19. We don’t see breakthrough infections in that kind of context and we don’t actually see any infections in that kind of context. We’re still not seeing cases where masked people are spreading COVID-19 between each other.”

Director of Emergency Management Willie Bence said the vaccination clinic scheduled for Quilcene today was cancelled due to lack of interest. Bence said he’s seen a number of polls that cite the most often cited reason for not getting the vaccine was lack of FDA approval. With today’s announcement regarding the Pfizer vaccine, Bence hopes it will spur those to get vaccinated. 

If there is an uptick in demand, the EOC number 360-344-9791 can be reached for help in finding a place to be vaccinated. There are a few private clinics that have been scheduled for employers who have a state-mandated deadline. 

Bence estimates that booster shots for the immunocompromised could be as high as 5%, which would be about 1,500 people. “We’re looking and seeing how many folks are going to their health care provider, how many folks go to the pharmacies, and then we’ll have as many two to four large mass clinics, typically for immunocompromised folks. And those would likely be the beginning of September.” Bence also is planning for booster shots for the entire population. Doses would start September 20 and they would go right on down the line, eight months after you received your your second shot. It started out with health care workers, certain older Jefferson County residents, and other high-risk populations, and then it would go through that prioritization process that we experienced earlier this year.

He said vaccinations will be busiest through November, December, and January, and DEM is starting to plan for what those clinics and what those numbers look like in preparation.

Submit your Public Health questions to Dr. Allison Berry 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.