Until last week, all seven people who had died from COVID-19 in Clallam and Jefferson counties were mostly in their 80s, the highest at-risk age group for contracting the virus.
That changed with the death, reported Friday, of a Clallam County man in his 50s.
He contracted the virus while travelling out of state before dying at his home, Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry said at her regular Friday briefing.
As Clallam remains the most vaccinated county in the state and “well within” the moderate-rate category for the viral infections, Berry said his passing signals that North Olympic Peninsula residents should, with vigilance, continue wearing masks in public and practicing safety protocols.
“It is a critical reminder that COVID-19 is still very much alive and well, and circulating, especially outside of our community, though we still have some here as well,” Berry said.
“It is a critical reminder of how serious this infection can be, even to younger people.”
There has been one death a month from the virus reported on the Peninsula.
A woman in her 90s and a woman in her 80s died in Jefferson County in November and December.
Three women in their 80s, a woman in her 70s and a man in his 80s have died in Clallam County since August.
Like the man whose death was reported Friday, most had underlying health conditions or age was a factor.
Clallam County, which passed the 1,000-cases mark the last week of February, stood at 1,012 as of Saturday, Berry said in a text message.
That’s an increase of 0ne reported case since Friday.
Jefferson County held steady at 336 cases as of Saturday, county Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said.
“This is another week of very low COVID-19,” he said.
Thirty percent of Clallam County residents had received at least one shot of a two-dose vaccine and 18 percent were fully vaccinated as of Friday, Berry said. Vaccination slots at Port Angeles High School were filled up for Saturday but available, as of Friday, for Sunday.
Twenty-nine percent of Jefferson County residents had received at least one shot and 16 percent both doses, Locke said Saturday.
Locke was driving to Chimacum to prepare for a mass vaccination event for the end of March, when both counties are expected to move into the broader-vaccine-distribution Phase 1B2 stage.
Clallam and Jefferson are in the 1B1 category for now.
It allows vaccinations of residents 65 and older and 50 and older who live in multigenerational households or caregivers older relative or children.
Added last week to the eligibility pool were pre-kindergarten-to-grade-12 educators and staff and all childcare providers regardless of age.
“We do have enough vaccines and vaccine slots to vaccinate this entire group in our community within the next two weeks,” Berry said.
Clallam County residents register at vaccine.clallam.net/register.
Jefferson County residents register at https://jeffersonhealthcare.org/covid-19-vaccine.
Stage 1B2 starts March 22. It opens the vaccination door to critical infrastructure workers in congregate settings such as grocery stores, food banks, transit agencies, correctional facilities and the agriculture and food-processing industries.
“There’s no longer an age cutoff in that group,” Berry said. “We will have slots available for you.”
Pregnant women over 16 are eligible for vaccines in the 1B2 group.
“We do know that pregnancies put you at severe risk of COVID-19 infection,” Berry said.
Also added to that group are people with a disability that predisposes them to the virus.
“That’s particularly targeted at people with a developmental disability, for some folks who really can’t tolerate a mask, and folks, for instance, with Down Syndrome, that puts them at really high risk for COVID-19.”
When the county reaches the 1B2 stage, county health workers will conduct direct outreach to certain populations, prioritizing Clallam Bay Corrections Center inmates and staff, where the state Department of Corrections has, as of Friday, never had a reported case of COVID-19.
“We’re also going to be doing relatively large outreach specifically to farm workers on the West End to make sure they have easy access to that,” Berry said.
Clallam County will be receiving 400 doses of the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine next week, Berry said.
It probably will be administered first to residents less likely to get a second dose, such as people in unstable housing situations.
It won’t be incorporated into mass vaccination efforts, “but that could happen down the road,” Berry said.
Jefferson County will receive 500 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that will be made available to anyone who is eligible, Locke said.
The state of Washington has received 65,000-66,000 doses of the J & J vaccine that must last until the end of March or beginning of April, he said.
“Then it will start to show up in large amounts,” Locke predicted, estimating by the end of June, 100 million doses will have been manufactured.
As early as the end of May, everyone who wants to get vaccinated will be able to get vaccinated, he predicted.
But no one knows if enough people will get vaccinated to create herd immunity, Locke said.
“We need 70 to 80 percent of people to be vaccinated for the pandemic to come to an end.”
Vaccinating those 15 and younger and the impact of COVID-19 variants remain open questions, he said.
He urged vaccinated people to continue to wear masks because they can still spread the virus and not show symptoms.
He predicted late fall or summer will be the earliest that people will be able to stop wearing masks.
But emerging COVID-10 variants “could really complicate the process,” he said, and could add another shot to the vaccination regimen.
“Maybe we will need to develop a booster dose of the vaccine that is specific for the variants,” Locke said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.