Hospital officials on the North Olympic Peninsula are working on ways to adhere to Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandate requiring health care workers be vaccinated for COVID-19 by Oct. 18.
On Monday, Inslee mandated all state workers, private health care employees and long-term care employees be vaccinated by the deadline or lose their jobs, allowing exceptions for medical and religious reasons, but not philosophical.
Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Jefferson and Clallam counties, supports the mandate.
“I think it’s a critical step,” Berry said. “I’m really glad he took that step.
“I think it’s incumbent on health care workers to do everything we can to make sure we’re keeping our patients safe, and I’m really hopeful that this will reduce health care-associated infections, health care-associated outbreaks and will help the public be and feel safer moving into health care spaces.”
Case numbers are continuing to climb on the North Olympic Peninsula, with Clallam County setting another record with a case rate of 293 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks as of Tuesday.
Clallam added 17 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, while Jefferson added seven new cases, according to county public health data.
Jefferson County’s case rate is 197.49 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Saturday.
Clallam County has confirmed a total of 1,860 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Jefferson County has confirmed 561 cases.
Eighteen people have died from COVID-19 in Clallam County, while four have died in Jefferson County.
Forks Community Hospital is working on specific plans for its unvaccinated staff to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, said Heidi Anderson, chief executive officer.
“We are working through the proclamation at this time to ensure FCH is in compliance with the governor’s mandate,” Anderson said in an email Tuesday.
“Throughout the pandemic, our goal has been to keep our residents, patients, and staff safe and this will continue to be our goal.”
Anderson previously reported at the end of July that 41 percent (123 people out of 300 employees) of FCH’s staff were not fully vaccinated and said Tuesday that number remained accurate.
Olympic Medical Center officials are working on plans to comply with the mandate.
“OMC’s Incident Command, employee health, human resources and other key personnel are actively working on a plan to comply with the governor’s mandate and will notify employees about future employee vaccination clinics in the following days and weeks,” said Jennifer Burkhardt, chief human resources officer and general counsel, on Tuesday.
“We are pleased to report that approximately 75 percent of OMC’s workforce are documented as fully vaccinated.”
Jefferson Healthcare officials are awaiting further guidance from the state before finalizing their plans, but the officials will coordinate their response to be “fully compliant” with the mandate, said Amy Yaley, hospital spokesperson, an in a email Tuesday.
“We believe that a fully vaccinated workforce promotes and helps support the safest care environment possible for patients, coworkers and our community,” said CEO Mike Glenn in an email to JHC staff Tuesday.
Jefferson Healthcare’s employee vaccination rate has increased over the last couple of weeks from 81.5 percent to 84.4 percent of the workforce, Yaley said.
While no other state vaccination mandates have been announced, Berry said she wouldn’t be surprised if more are added in the future.
Masking mandates are also in discussion again at the state level, as well as for Jefferson and Clallam counties specifically, Berry said.
“With how rapidly our case numbers are rising, we have do everything we can to get this under control,” Berry said. “The situation right now is really unprecedented in our region.”
Limiting new cases now will help stem a possible rise in hospitalizations and subsequent deaths, she added.
Clallam County now has five residents hospitalized and Jefferson has two, but Berry expects those numbers to increase.
She said there is usually about a two-week lag between increased hospitalizations after a significant rise in cases, followed by a rise in deaths two to three weeks after that.
“If we want to get through this without a surge that would overrun our hospitals, we need to make changes now,” Berry said.
“It is not too late to get vaccinated.
“The surge is coming. The wave is here. The hospitalization surge will follow in a couple weeks, which means you could get vaccinated today and keep yourself from getting hospitalized,” she continued.
“If you got vaccinated today, it will make a difference. If you put a mask on today, it will make a difference.”
Due to the continued rise in case numbers, Berry and Clallam County Undersheriff and Emergency Management Director Ron Cameron will restart their 10 a.m. Friday briefings regarding the pandemic. The public will be able to view them at www.clallam.net/Coronavirus.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected]