Dr. Tom Locke is the Jefferson County deputy health officer.

Dr. Tom Locke is the Jefferson County deputy health officer.

Mandates may be ‘new normal,’ deputy health officer says

Vaccination rates are rising across the state and nationally, the deputy public health officer for Jefferson County told commissioners Monday.

The delta variant of COVID-19 has changed some opinions on vaccination, Dr. Tom Locke told the board of county commissioners.

“A lot of people are reconsidering their decision not to get vaccinated in light of what we just went through,” Locke said.

“Like it or not, the mandates are going to be the new normal,” he added, referring to Gov. Jay Inslee’s requirement of all state workers and healthcare workers to be fully immunized.

Locke filled in Monday for Dr. Allison Berry, the health officer for Jefferson and Clallam counties who had another obligation Monday.

“We need to get population immunity to 90 percent or higher if we want this to come to an end,” Locke said.

Booster-shot clinics are planned in both Jefferson and Clallam counties this Saturday. For people who received their two doses of the Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago, Quilcene School, 294715 U.S. Highway 101, will be the venue for a booster shot from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. To make an appointment, go to co.jefferson.wa.us/1429/COVID-19.

A Moderna booster clinic is scheduled Saturday at Port Angeles High School, 304 E. Park Ave., in anticipation of final Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approval of a third Moderna shot. That approval is expected this week, Berry said.

Appointments for the Port Angeles clinic, set to start at 9 a.m., can be made at vaccine.clallam.net/register.

People older than 65 and those 18 or older with an underlying medical condition are eligible for boosters. Vaccines are also available at local pharmacies and from primary care providers.

Over the weekend, the Jefferson County Public Utilities District announced it would require all 54 of its employees to be vaccinated.

PUD General Manager Kevin Streett made the decision in order to comply with the state mandate and to protect the health of workers and the public, according to a press release.

The PUD currently has contracts with the state Department of Transportation, Streett said, “and, as part of the performance of that contract, our personnel are subject to the vaccination requirements.”

Up to two-thirds of the PUD’s employees work with state crews on various projects, spokesperson Will O’Donnell said Monday. Those include culvert replacements past and future, he said.

O’Donnell added that the PUD is negotiating with labor unions on the terms of the vaccination requirement; he could not say when the deadline will be for workers to get their shots.

On the Peninsula, COVID numbers are still climbing.

As of Monday afternoon, the case count reached 4,655 in Clallam County and 1,071 in Jefferson County. According to public health data, Jefferson saw seven new cases over the weekend, while 39 additional cases were confirmed in Clallam County.

Berry said the West End, along with workplace and social transmission, continue to be sources of new infections.

The pandemic’s death toll on the Peninsula remained the same at 69 people, and a total of 11 residents are hospitalized with the disease. Two were admitted over the weekend to Jefferson Healthcare hospital while another Jefferson patient was transferred to a Seattle hospital, Locke reported.

Eight Clallam County residents are hospitalized with COVID, Locke said.

“Now is not the time to back off by any means” from precautions, he said, adding that anyone who contracts COVID is at risk of developing the long form of the disease.

“Long COVID” symptoms — including brain fog, chronic pain and fatigue — can affect an individual’s life for months after the initial diagnosis, he said.

This “makes it all the more important that we prevent any cases of COVID” through immunization, Locke said.

Getting vaccinated is more than a personal decision; “a lot of what you’re doing is protecting other people,” he added.

“The stakes have really never been higher,” he said.

“If we increase vaccination rates and continue masking and other control measures, we could see a steady drop over the winter,” but if immunization trends lag and people stop being careful, a Christmas time surge may be possible, Locke said.

A return to many normal activities could come around March — depending on what people do between now and then, he said.

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

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