Another death from COVID-19 was confirmed on Friday, on the day when more than 200 people gathered at the Clallam County Courthouse to protest the newest COVID-19 restrictions put in place in an attempt to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus on the North Olympic Peninsula.
The Clallam County Emergency Management COVID-19 Safety briefing conducted by Dr. Allison Berry and Undersheriff Ron Cameron was cut short Friday morning due to safety concerns regarding the protesters storming the building.
Berry released a health officer’s order Thursday that mandated that those entering restaurants or bars in Jefferson and Clallam counties must provide proof they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 beginning Saturday, unless they are under 12 years old and therefore too young to get the vaccine.
People who are unvaccinated can eat outside or order take-out.
The most recent death in Clallam County was a woman in her 60s who was fully vaccinated but had medical conditions that made her less able to respond to the vaccine and for whom treatment was delayed, Berry said. There was a significant delay in care due to not being able to find a hospital bed for her because hospitals across the state are near capacity or full, Berry said.
“We think all of those conditions put together put her in a more difficult situation,” Berry said. “I just want to send our condolences to her family. She got very sick very fast.
“I think she is the first death for her relatively small community, and I think it’s going to be a huge loss to that community.”
The newest death brings the total to 23 deaths in Clallam County since the pandemic began, while Jefferson County has had six.
Regardless of protests against the order, Berry stands by her decision, as there have been numerous COVID-19 outbreaks at bars and restaurants, and capacity constraints would have been more harmful to businesses, she said.
Hospitals are straining under the weight of the COVID-19 cases, schools are just resuming classes and cases have to be brought under control quickly to prevent completely overwhelming the hospitals and forcing schools to close — hence the further mitigation measures, Berry said.
“(Restaurants and bars) are some of the only settings left that we still see large groups of people indoors without masks on,” Berry said.
“They are high-risk places for the workers and we’ve seen disproportionate amounts of infections among restaurant workers and people working in bars because they can’t be equally protected from their clientele.
“These are people who are just trying to feed their family and do their job and they’re taking on an incredible risk to do so,” Berry continued.
”We did speak to businesses owners and the answer was loud and clear that capacity restrictions are unsustainable for businesses. That they can’t stay open,” she said.
“We don’t want to close businesses if we don’t have to. If we can get our cases numbers back down to a reasonable level, get our hospitals functioning at a reasonable level, we can rescind these kind of orders.”
Dr. Tom Locke, deputy public health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, said he supports Berry’s order.
“What Dr. Berry is doing is exactly the right thing to do,” Locke said Saturday. “It’s something we can do to really make it safer.
“There really two main deterrents of outbreaks: the nature of the virus and human behavior,” Locke said.
“We can’t change the virus. Delta is super transmissible. But we can change our behaviors.”
Hospitals are being overwhelmed, Locke said.
“We need to preserve them not only for COVID patients but also for everyone else,” those who suffer heart attacks or strokes or who are in car wrecks, Locke said.
Officials had made the decision to move Friday’s briefing to online participation only after they were told that large numbers of unvaccinated and unmasked people were planning to attend.
That would have been a dangerous situation for COVID-19 spread, as the room is small and large amounts of people indoors have proven to be places where high levels of virus transmission are common, Berry said Friday.
Berry was not available for further comment Saturday. No additional statistics were available on Saturday.
Clallam County added 83 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Friday, while Jefferson County added 14 new cases, according to county public health data.
Clallam County has confirmed a total of 2,982 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Jefferson County has confirmed 749 cases of COVID-19.
On Friday, Clallam County recorded a case rate of 1,009 cases per 100,000 population for the last two weeks as of Friday, meaning that at least one in 100 people are being infected with COVID-19 over the last 14 days, Berry said.
That statistic is even higher when paired with the record high 21.3 percent test positivity — the percentage of COVID-19 tests returned positive — which means that one in five people testing for COVID-19 are positive for it, Berry said.
“That is unheard of,” she said.
The high test positivity suggests officials are testing and catching only one in 10 to one in 20 cases of COVID-19 in the community, Berry said.
Clallam County had 21 residents hospitalized for COVID-19 on Friday, with 19 hospitalized at Olympic Medical Center.
OMC was full on Friday and officials at OMC and Forks Community Hospital were preparing surge staffing plans in case they need to pull non-hospital staff from other clinics to keep up with patient loads, Berry said.
“They can’t make any more space,” Berry said. “They are certainly using every avenue available.
“These are staff that have been working around the clock for a very long time and our health care workers are exhausted and they’re doing everything they can.
“If you have a long wait in the Emergency Room or a long wait to get on the phone with your doctor in their clinic, it’s because we don’t have enough people to take care of all the people who are sick right now.”
Jefferson County had six COVID-19 patients hospitalized with five at Jefferson Healthcare.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected]
Executive Editor Leah Leach contributed to this story.