COVID-19 activity flattening statewide, but not enough to relax

State secretary of health wants to see better trend

While North Olympic Peninsula health officers said Thursday that 18 new cases had been confirmed, the state Department of Health reported COVID-19 activity statewide is flattening, although it is not yet enough to begin to lift restrictions.

“Because of the high levels of disease activity Washington state has seen this fall, we are looking for more than just a flat trend,” said Dr. Umair A. Shah, state secretary of health.

“We need to see a significant decrease in cases and hospitalizations, and the only way to get there is to intensify our current efforts to control the spread of the virus,” he continued.

“It is encouraging to see that those efforts have helped the state avoid a post-Thanksgiving spike. If we want to maintain this progress going into the new year, we must take every precaution possible, including limiting in-person celebrations to our immediate households.”

Clallam County confirmed 15 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, while Jefferson County confirmed three new cases, according to county public health data.

The influx of cases in Clallam County was thought to be a combination of Wednesday and Thursday results due to testing delays, and all cases are believed to have stemmed from local social gatherings, said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer.

The three people in Jefferson County contracted the novel coronavirus through out-of-county exposure or from exposure to a household member who previously had tested positive for COVID-19, said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.

While vaccinations for Phase 1A are still happening in both counties, Unthank urges caution over the holiday weekend to avoid a potential spike.

“So far I think we’re doing OK,” she said. “Vaccinations are getting out there — though not quite as fast as we would like, but still relatively quickly — and we are seeing numbers of cases hold steady.

“We just want to encourage everyone over the coming holiday to be very thoughtful about those social gatherings, and if we are cautious, I think we can keep our numbers trending down and really keep our community safe.”

Vaccinations

Nationwide, about 1 million vaccines have been administered of the estimated 9 million doses that have been distributed, Locke said.

Both counties are working through the Phase 1A group of frontline health care workers, frontline first responders and long-term care facility staff and residents using Pfizer’s vaccine.

Clallam County also has received its first shipments of Moderna’s vaccine.

Unthank and Locke believe the Peninsula has enough vaccine to complete the first round of vaccinations for the Phase 1A group at this point, and they hope to be able to move on to Phase 1B starting in mid- to late January.

All vaccinations are done by appointment. Given the holidays, it will take a few more weeks to complete 1A, they said.

Exactly who will be included in Phase 1B was unknown as of Thursday, they said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices — which is comprised of immunization and disease experts — recommended Phase 1B include frontline essential workers and people older than 75, Locke said.

However, the state had not announced by Thursday if it would adopt that recommendation — although it is expected it will — and the state has not defined exactly who classifies as a frontline essential worker.

“We had a statewide meeting (Wednesday), and those of us in local public health, we really pressed the Department of Health that we need clarity and specificity on this 1B group as soon as possible,” Locke said.

“We can’t wait until the night before we get the vaccine because there’s going to be a lot of work identifying people on the list and contacting them and seeing who is interested in immunization.”

The decision for the 1B group now sits with the governor’s office, Locke said.

So far this month, Clallam County has confirmed 193 cases, about 27.2 percent of the 709 the county has confirmed since March, according to Clallam County Public Health data.

Jefferson County has confirmed 42 cases of COVID-19, about 19.8 percent of the 212 the county has confirmed since March, according to Jefferson County Public Health data.

Sixty-six COVID-19 cases were active as of Thursday in Clallam County. Jefferson County had 12 active cases.

The test positivity on the Peninsula — the percentage of tests returned positive — was 3.9 percent in Clallam County for Dec. 7-21, and 1.13 percent in Jefferson County for Dec. 14-20.

Jefferson County is in the state’s moderate-risk category with a case rate of 59.56 per 100,000 population for the two weeks prior as of Monday.

Clallam County is in the state’s high-risk category with a case rate of 132 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Thursday.

________

Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5 or at [email protected].

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