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. Spokespeople from Jefferson Healthcare joined to address the meeting. 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.
Jefferson Healthcare’s CEO/Administrator Mike Glenn, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joe Mattern, and Chief of Medicine Dr. Tracy Harris joined Dr. Berry in briefings to the Commissioners about the state of the pandemic in Jefferson County. Dr. Barry said the numbers in Jefferson continue to rise. “It’s a wildfire.” Jefferson had a huge increase in positive cases over this holiday weekend, with 56 new cases added today.
“We’re up to a total of 805 documented cases of COVID-19 in our region,” she reported. “We have 108 people known to be in isolation at this time. Our current case rate in the last two weeks is 485 per 100,000. That’s certainly the highest we have ever seen out here.” She said the case rate just passed 1,000 cases per 100,000 in Clallam County which is “unprecedented.”
Dr. Berry said hospitals are stretched to capacity throughout the state. “We’ve moved to a system where new admissions get triaged to different hospitals throughout the state so that we can try to share the load, but every hospital is hurting.”
Hospital Administrator Mike Glenn provided a dire overview of the situation at Jefferson Healthcare. “It’s been a really difficult last four weeks,” explained Glenn. “Our emergency department and in-patient activity has surged, mostly due to an increase of COVID-19 patients. Over the weekend we peaked at 20 patients, with seven being COVID-positive. “This is a heavy load for us and really strained an already tired and stretched team of caregivers. This level of activity, and bracing for what might come, is impacting our ability to take care of other care needs in the community.”
The Hospital has suspended all inpatient elective procedures, The biggest limiting factor continues to be staffing. “We’re facing the same crisis as every other hospital healthcare provider,” said Glenn. “We continue to operate all of our other COVID-19 outpatient services like testing, vaccinations, monoclonal antibody clinic, and other services our community requires.
“This is, by far, the worst it’s been at Jefferson Healthcare,” said Glenn. “And, to make matters worse, our caregivers are tired and a little fed up with the continuation of what we know can be more effectively curtailed. We welcome the mask mandate and the restaurant vaccination mandate and fully support all the COVID-19 risk mitigation protocols recommended by Dr. Berry.”
Dr. Tracy Harris explained what it was like to be an in-patient nurse during this time. “This is my 14th straight day of taking care of patients,” she said. “Nurses simply cannot provide care to as many patients as they could if they didn’t require this level of infection control. “It’s emotionally impactful to feel like you can’t do the job the way that you want to on a day-to-day basis.”
Dr. Joe Mattern said the hospital is diverting staff and resources to deal with COVID -19.
“We are continuing to divert resources now to manage COVID-19. So, probably about 300 test results over the last three to four days were coming through our testing just to monitor and identify people who are sick or need testing through our system. That means nurses, that means labs, that means all these other resources. “We don’t have the staff to take care of patients so we’re diverting staff to try to offer monoclonal antibody treatments which can be helpful for people in the early stage of illness. And that is something we want to do because it decreases hospitalizations. But, it does not decrease hospitalizations the way that vaccinations decrease hospitalizations. So, the need to have more people vaccinated is what is really going to get us to a point that’s going to reduce the strain.”
Mattern said while Dr. Harris was focusing on the inpatient, he spent a lot of time focusing on the outpatient and his role as hospice director. He was admitting patients with COVID-19 on the hospice team, which he said is also stretched thin so even being able to provide proper palliative care to patients is challenging.
Dr. Barry provided a powerful and straightforward plea to the community during her update to the Commissioners: “I want to acknowledge we know how to stop this. If everyone went out and got vaccinated today, we could stop this. If everyone wore a mask when they were indoors and avoided these crowded indoor settings, we could stop this. We know how to stop COVID-19. Now we just need everyone to do it. The vaccine is incredibly safe. It is incredibly effective. It would make all the difference. So if you are unvaccinated right now, please go get vaccinated today. Please wear a mask when you are indoors, as we’ve discussed in response to this critical rise in cases and hospitalizations, the strain on our healthcare system, and in an attempt to keep our schools open.
“I did announce at the end of last week a mandate requiring proof of vaccination to enter restaurants and bars in our community. The primary reason for that is we know these are high-risk spaces; they are some of the only spaces left where we go in and take our masks off and stay there for an hour or two. We know that transmission happens in those spaces – it’s happened in Jefferson County, it’s happened in Clallam County. And, we know we can have very large outbreaks resulting from that. One of the largest outbreaks we’ve had in Clallam County resulted in a total of 117 cases from unmasked spread within a bar. So it really is a very strong driver of transmission. We’re trying to do what we can to curtail it, and we are trying to do what we can to make this as focused of an intervention as possible.
Our other options include closing these industries – closing restaurants, closing bars, closing places where people come together. We are trying to not do that because we know our businesses have struggled through the pandemic and we want to keep them open. A vaccination requirement makes it safer for the staff who go there to work every day, and it makes it safer for the patrons who come to participate in those activities. “It is actually much safer to go out to eat now if you are fully vaccinated. A quick reminder that this only applies to indoor dining, it does not apply to outdoor dining. So those who have outdoor seating, you can still participate in that if you are unvaccinated. You can still get takeout.
“I did hear from folks who were worried about how this would affect our local businesses, and I would encourage folks, to the extent that you are able, to support our local businesses – get some takeout, even the outdoor dining if you’re vaccinated. You can eat indoors and it’s a lot safer than it used to be. There’s we can all support our businesses. This does not have to hurt our businesses. In fact in many cases, I think it will actually help. There are a lot of people who have been staying away from restaurants because they don’t feel safe there. And it’s much, much safer if everyone’s vaccinated, in that space.
Submit your Public Health questions to Dr. Allison Berry 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.