Those entering restaurants or bars in Jefferson and Clallam counties must provide proof they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 beginning Saturday, the North Olympic Peninsula health officer announced on Thursday, the same day that three new COVID-19 deaths were reported both counties combined.
Two Jefferson County residents and one Clallam County resident were confirmed to have died from the novel coronavirus on Thursday. All had underlying health conditions and were unvaccinated.
That raises the total Peninsula death toll to 28.
Clallam County also added 105 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, raising its total number of cases to 2,899 since the pandemic began.
Jefferson County confirmed 22 cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, raising its total number of cases to 735 since the pandemic began.
The two who died of COVID-19 in Jefferson County include a man in his 60s who died Saturday, but officials were notified Thursday, and a woman in her 50s who died Tuesday, Berry said.
The Clallam County death was a woman in her 80s, Berry said.
“These are likely to come as a shock to the Jefferson County community,” Berry said regarding the recent deaths. “In Jefferson County, we’ve only had four deaths so far … and we’ve had two in the last week.
“There’s an unfortunate tendency I’m hearing when someone dies — especially when they’re unvaccinated — that we kind of blame them for their death, and I think it’s important to remember this is someone’s family member in our community, and someone is grieving the loss of someone they love Friday,” she continued.
“Let’s all be kind and focus on fighting the virus and not each other,” Berry said.
Input from business
The proof-of-vaccination requirement was decided after talks Berry and public health department staffers had with chambers of commerce representatives on the Peninsula and some businesses, Berry said.
They highlighted that the vaccination requirement would be less costly and less damaging to restaurants and bars than capacity restrictions or take-out only, Berry said.
“Indoor bars and restaurants are known to pose a high risk for COVID-19 transmission, as they encourage unmasking of large groups of people indoors,” said Berry in a press release Thursday.
“Our goal is to make these safer places to be and to reduce transmission in our communities, allowing our hospitals to keep functioning and our schools to open more safely.”
The delta variant has the capacity to spread farther than 6 feet when people are unmasked indoors, said Berry, who added that it was decided “that a vaccine requirement will be more effective and less costly than the capacity limitations we saw last year.
“We want to keep businesses open while protecting the public,” Berry said.
“This is how we do it. The bars and restaurants have to enforce it, but they’re not the ones who wrote it.
“Be kind to the restaurant workers. They’re just trying to do their jobs.”
Virtual briefing Friday
The public health order will be discussed further during a virtual briefing at 10 a.m. Friday.
Due to a “high level of interest” in Friday’s Clallam County Emergency Management COVID-19 briefing, Berry and Undersheriff Ron Cameron will conduct it remotely with no in-person attendance permitted.
The meeting can be viewed at www.clallam.net/features/meetings.html and questions can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some residents have opposed the new order. Port Hadlock resident Jodi Wilke is frustrated with the change of the meeting from in-person to virtual, as she feels it limits residents’ ability to be involved in decision-making.
Wilke is urging residents to attend the virtual meeting and submit their questions, as she believes the public should have had a say in the mitigation measures that Berry mandated.
“Our public officials should take their job seriously as a servant to the public,” Wilke said. “There are a lot of people who are going to be hurt by this.”
Acceptable forms of proof of vaccination include a completed CDC vaccination card, a state Department of Health Certificate of COVID-19 Vaccination, a printed copy of a state Department of Health vaccine record, a photograph of any of those documents, or an app-based vaccine passport, the release said.
Those who are unvaccinated can still receive orders to go or use outdoor seating areas, Berry said.
A person is fully vaccinated after having received all the required doses of a vaccine for COVID-19 and 14 days have passed since the final dose, according to the order.
Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two doses taken four and three weeks apart, respectively. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine requires one dose.
Employees of bars and restaurants who mask continuously while in the building do not need to provide proof of vaccination. Additionally, children younger than 12, who are ineligible for vaccination, may enter without showing proof, the order said.
Case rates soar
Clallam County has a case rate of 964 cases per 100,000 for the past two weeks as of Thursday. Jefferson County calculates its case rate weekly and on Monday reported a rate of 247.65 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Saturday.
As of last month, statewide, 495 outbreaks of COVID-19 had been traced to restaurants and bars in Washington state, including several in Jefferson and Clallam counties, according to the state Department of Health.
“Vaccination remains the most powerful tool we have to reduce illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19,” the release said.
In Washington state, 94 percent of those who have been hospitalized and 92 percent of those who have died due to COVID-19 were unvaccinated, according to state data.
Since the beginning of February, 18.1 percent of new COVID-19 cases in Jefferson County have been among fully vaccinated residents, meaning 81.9 percent of cases have been among unvaccinated residents, according to county data.
Since the beginning of February in Clallam County, 9.9 percent of new COVID-19 cases have been among fully vaccinated residents, meaning 90.1 percent of cases have been among unvaccinated residents, according to county data.
“With hospitals around our region stretched to the breaking point, we need to do everything we can to keep our communities safe,” Berry said.
“Getting vaccinated with this incredible vaccine, which is safe, effective, free and life-saving, is simply the right thing to do.”
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at email@example.com.