Clallam Bay Corrections Center is experiencing a large outbreak of COVID-19.
Confirmed cases have climbed at the facility, which houses about 858 offenders, since the end of August, according to state Department of Corrections data on its COVID-19 dashboard at https://www.doc.wa.gov/.
As of Friday, the prison had 134 cases, according to Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties. She previously had reported 144 cases there and corrected it Friday.
“We currently have a breakdown for 124 of those cases, 33 are staff and 91 are inmates,” Berry said.
“We have 10 more (cases), but we haven’t got their investigations yet so we don’t know if they are staff or inmates.”
Apparently, none have been hospitalized.
“I don’t believe we have had any hospitalizations from Clallam Bay at this point,” Berry said. “We are certainly monitoring and communicating with the state to let us know as soon as possible if anyone is going to be moved into the hospital so that we are prepared to take them.”
Apprehension is growing about the outbreak because of the way similar prison outbreaks have taken off. For instance, Airway Heights Corrections Center in Spokane County has reported 1,682 cases of COVID-19 and four deaths.
“I am very concerned about (the outbreak at Clallam Bay Correction Center). We have seen those outbreaks get very out of hand in other regions and we are starting to see that play out here,” Berry said.
”One hopeful thing is that most of the folks involved in that outbreak are relatively young and healthy and are less likely to see the kind of hospitalizations we’ve seen of those from those in long-term-care facility cases.
Berry attributed the outbreak to low vaccination rates at the correction facility.
“Correctional officers were not required to be vaccinated until very recently, and that’s just coming online now so we only have approximately 50 percent uptick in vaccines in that group. Similarly with those in prison as well we’ve seen a 50 percent uptick in vaccinations,” Berry said
The public information officer at Clallam Bay Corrections Center said she sent on a Peninsula Daily News request for more information about the outbreak on Friday to an unidentified person elsewhere in the department; no response was received as of end of business on Friday.
According to state DOC data, Olympic Corrections Center south of Forks has had three cases of COVID-19.
As of Friday morning, Clallam County has had a total of 4,059 cases since the pandemic began with a case rate of 955 per 100,00. Eight people were hospitalized as of Friday.
Clallam has had a total of 178 hospitalizations with 46 deaths attributed to COVID-19.
Jefferson County has had a total of 61 hospitalizations with 13 deaths due to the virus.
Proof of vaccination
Berry also spoke about the proof-of-vaccination order for indoor dining and drinking that was effective Sept. 4, and what led to it and how the county is enforcing and tracking compliance.
Berry said the primary driver for the order was because of the growing possibility that hospitals would be overwhelmed and that case rates would rise to a point where schools would close to in-person education as they did last year.
“Around this time last year, there was a lot of discussion about was it ethical to see schools close but everything else remains open?” Berry said.
“This year we chose to prioritize our most critical functions in society.
“We were going to try and make sure our health care system could take care of all that was needed.
“We were going to try and make sure that our most vulnerable citizens living in long-term care had a shot at surviving this, and we were going to try and make sure our kids could stay in school for their health and their well being and for their families,” Berry said.
Berry noted that in conversations with local school boards and superintendents she promised that if it came to it she would close other societal functions, like restaurants and bars before closing schools.
Since then the county has worked to keep as many things open as possible while keeping case rates down.
“We put in this order that requires proof of vaccination at these high-risk places ( bars and restaurants) and so far it’s starting to work,” Berry said.
Berry said that most businesses have been compliant although four, which she did not identify, were sent warning letters.
“We have had four businesses reach the point of receiving a formal letter requiring that they comply with the order or risk losing their license, and that starts the 72-hour clock for them to get into compliance,” Berry said.
The plan right now is to remove the proof-of-vaccination order when case rates get down to a moderate range or a 75 per 100,000 case rate for more than two weeks.
Reporter Ken Park can be reached at [email protected]