The South African variant of COVID-19 has been confirmed in King County, and local health officials are urging residents to remain cautious.
It is not clear yet whether the South African variant (known as B.1.351) is more contagious or causes more severe illness. It has been shown to reduce the effectiveness of some vaccines, although the vaccines continue to provide strong protection against severe illness and death, the state said in a press release.
The more contagious U.K. variant (known as B.1.1.7) also has been discovered in Washington state, where 39 cases have been confirmed, the state said.
“The detection of these COVID-19 variants in our state reminds us that this pandemic is not over,” said Dr. Scott Lindquist, acting state health officer, in the release.
“Despite the decrease in our case count, we are very concerned about the emergence of these variants and how it will affect future case counts. As a community, we need to re-double our efforts to prevent the spread of this virus and its variants by following public health guidance.”
Clallam County and Jefferson County health officers Dr. Allison Berry and Dr. Tom Locke agreed with Lindquist.
“All of these strains are more contagious,” Berry said Tuesday. “In order to continue the kind of success that we’ve been having out here, we have to limit further transmission of those variants in particular.
Said Locke: “We’re entering yet another precarious phase of the pandemic, where if we do things right at this stage, we will be in a much better shape in the summer and beyond.
“If we fail to do that, we’re going to pay the price and get a fourth wave.”
In addition to distancing, avoiding indoor gatherings and hand washing, both health officers also recommend people reevaluate the face masks they use.
Face masks should fit flush along the face, covering both the nose and the mouth. If it is a made of cloth, it should be at least two layers and not have visible light seen if held up to a light source. Double masking with a blue surgical mask under a cloth mask will provide better protection than just a cloth mask, Locke and Berry said.
Vaccinations are continuing across the North Olympic Peninsula.
Appointments for the clinic at the Port Angeles High School on Saturday and Sunday open today at 9 a.m. for phase 1A members and residents 65 and older. Register at http://vaccine.clallam.net/register. Those who must schedule by phone can call 360-417-2430.
The Sequim clinic set Thursday is booked, Berry said.
A vaccination clinic is set in Joyce on Wednesday. It will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Crescent School gym, 50350 state Highway 112. The clinic is for Joyce residents 65 or older. To register, call 360-417-2430.
Jefferson Healthcare is making appointments for vaccinations through its “When is it my turn?” list, which people 65 and older can sign up for at https:// jeffersonhealthcare.org/covid-19-vaccine.
On Tuesday, Clallam County confirmed one new case and so far this month has confirmed 47 cases of COVID-19, about 4.73 percent of the 993 cases confirmed since last March, according to Clallam County data.
Jefferson County had no new cases Tuesday and has confirmed 27 cases of COVID-19 this month, about 8.16 percent of the 331 it has confirmed since last March, according to Jefferson County Public Health data.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected]