Immunizations edge upward while COVID variants threaten unvaccinated

Travel especially dangerous

As vaccination rates creep slowly upward, highly transmissible variants of COVID-19 endanger the unvaccinated, both North Olympic Peninsula health officers said this weekend.

“We haven’t had much of the scarier variants,” yet, such as the Delta variant seen in India and the P1 variant, said Clallam County’s health officer, Dr. Allison Berry.

“The way we’d start to see them is travel. So if you’re not vaccinated, it’s not a good time to travel,” even if summer is officially here.

Clallam County, which this past week returned to the high-risk category for COVID-19, has seen 72 people infected so far in June, with four new cases added Friday. Jefferson County, still at the moderate-risk level, has had 26 people test positive this month, with three new cases reported by Saturday afternoon.

“We do currently have four people hospitalized. Three are related to the church outbreak” of last week, Berry said. One patient is in intensive care.

A Clallam church and a long-term care facility, both of which Berry did not identify, have had outbreaks infecting more than 30 people in total.

In Jefferson County, two of the three people most recently testing positive are from the Quilcene-Brinnon area, county health officer Dr. Tom Locke said. The third person is from the Port Townsend area and became infected by a Clallam County contact.

“We’ve seen an upsurge in cases in the South County area, which not coincidentally has lower vaccination rates,” Locke said.

He added that the P1 variant is increasing across Washington state. Dr. Scott Lindquist, state epidemiologist for communicable diseases, has said the P1 is a nastier strain, making people sicker and more likely to be hospitalized.

“There is some evidence of more breakthrough cases” in vaccinated people, Locked added, “principally in people who are more elderly,” whose immune systems cannot mount a strong-enough response.

“We’re concerned about nursing home outbreaks,” he said.

Both Berry and Locke touted the home COVID tests now available over the counter at local pharmacies.

These rapid tests are “highly accurate,” Berry said, adding, “if you test positive, it’s real. Give us a call, and we’ll talk you through what to do.”

The number to use in Clallam County is 360-417-2274. In Jefferson, phone the county Health Department at 360-385-9400 or contact the Jefferson Healthcare Express Clinic, open daily 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., at 360-385-2204.

Meanwhile, the two counties’ health departments continue their efforts to immunize people, with Jefferson reporting 58.5 percent of people 16 and older fully vaccinated and Clallam 58.9 percent of residents 16 and older completing their shots. The state vaccine locator at https://vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov lets users find out where appointments are available, while the county Health Department websites in Clallam and Jefferson also have information about where to be immunized.

Across the Peninsula and the state, there are still people who are unconvinced about the vaccines, Locke said.

Yet “we will never give up on the vaccination front,” he said.

At the same time, “more and more it’s going to come down to discussions that happen in households, in groups of friends, in faith communities,” to raise rates toward herd immunity.

“People want to gather together in churches, with masks off and singing,” said Locke.

“That can be done safely if everyone’s vaccinated.”

________

Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or durbanidelapaz@peninsuladaily news.com.

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