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.”
Some necessary health measures, such things as cancer screenings and non-COVID-19 vaccinations, took a back seat to the pandemic.
“Health care clinics and hospitals have to get back to the businesses of doing what they do,” Locke said.
The top priority of public health offices is to investigate the origins of confirmed cases and trace contacts — people who were in proximity to the person who is ill and who may have been exposed.
Public health offices also provide such services as mid-quarantine tests for those they have directed to self-isolate because they have been exposed to the virus, using at-home tests, which are increasingly available, as well as volunteers to bring food and support to those in quarantine.
Public health offices also will be taking over more testing functions, which until now has largely been done by health care agencies that deal with individuals.
According to Locke, the change in tactics for fighting COVID-19 has led to a move to more “sustainable” practices.
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.
Jefferson County has seen a slight rise in cases, with nine cases over the past two-week period, compared to five cases the two-week period prior.
Locke expects to see that increase continue given the trend of more open indoor gatherings and taking off face masks.
“It’s not just people who are vaccinated who are doing that. It’s also people who are unvaccinated and they are getting infected as a consequence,” Locke said,a dding that those who travel out of the county also should take precautions..
Recent new cases all have been in people who are unvaccinated, he said.
Washington residents 16 and older who have been vaccinated with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination at any time before 11:59 p.m. on the Sunday before a drawing will be automatically entered into statewide giveaway lottery drawings each Tuesday for the next three weeks. That excludes employees of the state Lottery Commission or state Department of Health and their families as well as anyone who is incarcerated.
Prizes include cash awards — four $250,000 awards with one jackpot of $1 million — as well as tuition money, airline and game tickets and tech gifts like game consoles and smart speakers.
It isn’t necessary to do anything to enter. All those who have been vaccinated are automatically entered into a database.
The latest data shows that 72.84 percent of Jefferson County residents 16 and older have initiated vaccinations, with 68.97 percent of them fully vaccinated, while 64.79 percent of the total population has started vaccinations, and 61.35 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the state’s dashboard.
Clallam County has vaccinated 62.47 percent of residents 16 and older with at least one dose, with 57.53 percent of them fully vaccinated, while 52.92 percent of the total population has begun vaccinations and 48.74 percent fully vaccinated, according to the state’s dashboard.
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.
As of Friday, no pop-up clinics were listed for Jefferson County.
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.
While all state residents 12 and older are eligible to be vaccinated, anyone younger than 18 can receive only Pfizer’s vaccine.
Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is the only one-dose vaccine, with Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccine requiring two doses taken three and four weeks apart, respectively.
A person is considered fully immunized two weeks after their final dose.
Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at email@example.com.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.