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 tto 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 County Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry Monday told the Commissioners that the county has diagnosed 871 cases of COVID-19. The current case rate in the last two weeks is 533 per 100,000, still higher than it was last week, but not skyrocketing the way it has done before. Four people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. There have been 13 deaths, most of these from a virus outbreak in a local long-term care facility.
Dr. Berry said hospital capacity in the state is “incredibly strained” with only 35 ICU beds available. Transferring patients out of our county has become “very, very difficult.” This is driven, she said, by “primarily unvaccinated COVID-19 cases.” Additionally, Idaho has declared a crisis for the northern part of the state. That has caused people to come to Eastern Washington for care. Surgeries and critical care have been postponed because of this outsourcing.
“Most of our local cases right now are people in their 20s and 30s,” Dr. Berry reported. “We’ve seen definitely our older population start to be quite a bit more cautious in their indoor gatherings. And I think that is starting to make a difference in our community, but it is the early days and we are still seeing significant strain on our public health and health care system. I certainly encourage anyone who has not yet been vaccinated to get vaccinated as soon as possible. It is the number one way you can prevent getting hospitalized for this illness and the number one way you can prevent dying of this illness.”
Dr. Berry told Commissioners that the vaccine is “incredibly safe and well-tested.” She refuted reports that it has an effect on fertility, saying it was a misinterpretation of a small study done on rats. She explained that in the United States, a large trial was conducted, looking at women who were pursuing fertility treatments. It was determined that women who got vaccinated and women who did not get vaccinated develop the same number of eggs in fertility treatments. “So, no effect on fertility, and it’s very, very safe,” Dr. Berry said. “What is not safe, is COVID-19.”
Apple Martine was introduced as the County’s new Director of Public Health. She said the department, although strained, is carrying on its mission, with a large focus on COVID19 which includes contact tracing and case management. “Managing folks in isolation and quarantine is something that we take a lot of pride in,” Martine said. “And we work very hard to manage those and make sure that people are able to be compliant, able to work through their symptoms and get better, and not spread into the community. And we have had little spread in the community until recently.”
Martine said biggest thing you can do to support the COVID-19 response is to get vaccinated and wear a mask. “If you test positive for COVID-19, especially on a home test, and you don’t have a healthcare interaction, definitely log on to our website,” Maritine suggested. “You can also look at our Facebook page. We’ve got a good flow chart of where to go.”
Martine reminded everyone that “your healthcare professionals are here to support you….we’re happy to help make sure that you don’t end up in the hospital if we can. Especially, if you test positive, and you are at high risk of progressing to severe disease.” If you’re over 65, and you test positive for COVID-19, there are treatments available to you. Or if you have advanced diabetes, and you test positive for COVID-19, monoclonal antibody therapy is available in Jefferson County for those high risk folks. So please do engage with your primary care provider; we can help get you that therapy to try to keep you from getting in the hospital.
Dr. Berry reported that Jefferson County’s vaccination card mandate for restaurants and bars has not yet been enforced by the Health Department. “We thought it was best to really just give people support for this first week,” Dr. Berry said. “Next week, we’ll start enforcing against businesses who are not participating in the order,” she explained. “How that works is we will reach out to the business. We always try to get voluntary compliance first and answer any questions that they have. And then, if they’re not willing, give them 72 hours to fix the violation. Then we can start revoking permits after that – and we would if they don’t make any changes.”
One way that they could get into compliance, she said, is to move to takeout-only or outdoor-dining-only. “And so, for some businesses, that might be a more manageable option,” she said. She admitted that the Health Department has a tiny staff that’s monitoring this mandate. “We’re going to give people some time to get on board. But now, we’re just going to be prioritizing them. We will eventually get to everything.”
Willie Bence reported that 78 immunocompromised people received their 3rd vaccine dose at the drive-thru clinic in Chimacum on Saturday. They will do another 3rd dose drive-thru clinic for IMMUNOCOMPROMISED people Saturday, September 18 at Blue Heron Middle School in Port Townsend. For details, click here.
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.