Public health officials in the United States are beginning to move from dealing with a pandemic as a medical emergency to treating COVID-19 more as an endemic disease that will always be with us, according to Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.
“There will always be a risk,” he said Sunday, adding that the unique virus still maintains epidemic status worldwide, even as the U.S. moves to a different tactic.
In the U.S., COVID-19 is increasingly seen as “an infection that will be around like flu and other infectious diseases — and it will mostly be a disease of the unvaccinated — but it is not going to shut down society or overwhelm hospitals.”
Still, “there is a lot of work to do,” Locke said.
So present conversations among partners — public health officials, hospital and clinic personnel, and others, including volunteers who have worked hard during the past 15 months or so to test, treat and vaccinate people — tend to be about who is in the best position to do what, Locke said.
“It is all changing now,” he said. “We’re moving into a different phase.”
Neither Jefferson nor Clallam counties are providing numbers of new cases confirmed on Saturdays and Sundays, with both Locke and Dr. Allison Berry, Clallam County health officer, citing a need to move toward a more normal schedule for staff members. Berry also is not available for comment on weekends, except in emergencies, she has said.
“We’re at risk of burnout,” Locke said, adding that he has not had any staff member quit because of the pressure. “We’re making the transition from an emergency phase to a more sustainable effort.”
Locke said the state Department of Health also will no longer provide updates for case numbers over the weekend, but unlike Clallam and Jefferson counties, it also will not investigate new cases.
“We do case investigations on weekends,” he said, which Berry also has said. “Any time we learn about cases, we contact people as soon as possible.”
A switch in the attack on COVID-19 — which reportedly has killed four people in Jefferson County, 12 in Clallam County, 5,800 people in Washington state and nearly 600,000 in the U.S. — doesn’t mean vaccinations are any less important, Locke emphasized.
Recent new cases all have been in people who are unvaccinated, he said.
COVID-19 vaccinations are available from a variety of pharmacies, health care clinics and public health pop-up events this week.
Residents can walk into the Jefferson Healthcare Express Clinic every day from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. to receive a Johnson & Johnson vaccine shot, or they can schedule with a primary care provider to receive Moderna, Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson, said Amy Yaley, hospital spokesperson.
Vaccinations at local pharmacies in Jefferson County can be found at https://co.jefferson.wa.us/1429/COVID-19.
Clallam County has two pop-up clinics scheduled this week. The first is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesday at Stevens Middle School and the other is from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Thursday at Port Angeles High School, said Dr. Allison Berry, Clallam County health officer.
Both clinics are for second doses of Pfizer’s vaccine for anyone 12 and older. However, if someone wants a first dose, they won’t be turned away and the health department will help schedule the second dose, Berry said Friday.
The full calendar for pop-up clinics in Clallam County can be viewed at https://tinyurl.com/PDN-ClallamPopUps.
Some of the larger grocery stores such as Walmart, Safeway and QFC receive regular shipments of COVID-19 vaccines.
The state has a vaccination locator at https://vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov, which allows users to see where appointments are available and which vaccine will be used.
Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected].
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected]