In one of her last planned briefings about COVID-19, Dr. Allison Berry looked ahead to a new season with children back in classrooms, a largely vaccinated population — and some who must quarantine.
“If we get a positive case in school,” which is likely this fall, the unvaccinated kids who are exposed will have to stay home in quarantine, said Berry, Clallam County’s Health Officer. “All of the vaccinated kids get to go to school,” since they’re immune to the coronavirus’ effects.
The same will go for workplaces. When an employee tests positive for COVID, the contact tracing process gets underway to include co-workers and anyone else who was near the infected person.
If the tracing list has 40 people on it — a realistic example based on recent months — there might be 20 who have been vaccinated.
“They don’t get [COVID],” Berry said, adding if you’ve been vaccinated, you get to “basically live your life.” Unvaccinated people are still in danger of infection with the virus, which has killed 13 people on the North Olympic Peninsula, 5,702 in Washington state and more than 603,400 in the United States.
Berry, who along with Clallam County Undersheriff Ron Cameron has given online briefings every week for many months, plans the last one this Friday at 10 a.m. via Clallam.net under “2019 novel coronavirus information.” It will be week 65 of the county’s pandemic response.
However, if cases surge again, the briefings will resume, Cameron said.
In Clallam County, four people are in the hospital with COVID-19; so far this month, 97 have been diagnosed with the disease in that county, including five new cases added Saturday morning. They are part of the 1,335 cases since the response began. Jefferson County, in contrast, has not seen a new case for seven days now. The May number remains at 22 people who’ve tested positive, for a total of 412 since March of last year.
Berry’s message to employers and church leaders alike: Assess your people’s vaccination status. It’s a common misconception, she said, that medical privacy laws prohibit bosses from asking their workers if they’re immunized.
“You can and you should ask them,” she said. And while employers must not ask “why?” or “why not?,” they should encourage vaccination, Berry said, “to make sure your staff are safe in the workplace.”
Churches, at the same time, are a high-risk space if congregants aren’t fully vaccinated. Indoor gatherings have driven infections up, Berry said. But “a fully vaccinated choir, with a fully vaccinated congregation, can sing,” she said.
Clallam.net and, for Jefferson County, www.co. jefferson.wa.us, provide information about vaccination sites on their COVID-19 pages. Clallam’s COVID information hotline is 360-417-2430. The Jefferson County number is 360-344-9791.
Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke spoke to the county Board of Health on Thursday about the challenges of the coming month. While masking mandates vary across the country, “we’re asking people to wear masks indoors for next four to six weeks,” he said.
If COVID infections continue to drop and vaccination rates climb, Locke added, then everybody will be safe shedding their masks.
Meantime, the Jefferson County Public Health team is striving to spread information about where shots are available.
“We’re looking at doing pop-ups,” as in small vaccination clinics, “at churches and at pubs — anything where we can draw a crowd,” Locke said. While 20 people is good, 50 is ideal; “for 50 people, we’ll go anywhere” in the county. He added that local pharmacies as well as Jefferson Healthcare clinics in Quilcene, Port Ludlow and Port Townsend have plenty of vaccine available. Walk-in visits and appointments are accepted, while people should call their preferred site for details.
Pam Adams, a Board of Health and Port Townsend City Council member who was a practicing chiropractor for many years, has firsthand experience with parents who hesitated to vaccinate their children. For them it was a personal health versus public health question, Adams said during the Board of Health meeting.
“I had some success just listening to them,” validating their concerns and explaining the science undergirding vaccines. She also took time to explain how herd immunity protects each child in each family.
Herd immunity “is not a switch. It’s a dial,” Berry said in her briefing. With increased vaccination, “we’re starting to turn that dial.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or durbanidelapaz@peninsuladaily news.com.