PORT ANGELES — The University of Washington and state Department of Health will focus attention on COVID-19 on the North Olympic Peninsula in coming weeks.
State Department of Health workers will visit a long-term Clallam County health care facility Monday where a COVID-19 outbreak is being tracked and which failed to follow health-care protocols, Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry said Friday.
And the University of Washington is sending out blood-test notifications to a random number of Jefferson County residents to determine how many have COVID-19 antibodies, to provide a truer indication of herd immunity, Jefferson County Health Officer Tom Locke said Saturday.
Berry would not name the health care facility with the outbreak nor its geographic location. She has reported it has had 11 residents and four staff members infected, a total that had not changed as of Friday.
“Contact tracing is going to be ongoing,” she said.
The state health agency will help county health agency workers review protocols, including those mandating use of personal protective equipment, and ensure infection control measures are in place, Berry said.
“We will be mostly making sure everyone is appropriately PPE’d at the right time,” she said.
The facility could be cited by the state for not following proper measures, Berry added.
“It doesn’t travel outdoors very well, so no one is in danger if they live near a long-term care facility.”
Visitation is not being allowed at the facility, Berry said.
Family members of residents at the outbreak facility have been notified, Berry said.
Berry has made COVID-19-related information less accessible.
As of last weekend, she no longer provides updated case numbers on Saturdays and Sundays. Her staff is busy with other matters, she said, and has not made anyone available to compile the information.
In addition, weekly public briefings for media, health care professionals and the general public that were held on Friday since the pandemic began early last year are no longer held. Berry makes herself available Monday through Friday “and as needed for emergencies,” she texted last Sunday.
Changes are “an attempt to scale back to more normal operations,” she texted.
Case numbers can change daily.
Countywide, there was an increase of three more cases from Thursday to Friday to 1,392 since the pandemic started in early 2020, Berry said Friday.
As of Friday, Clallam County’s infection rate had increased to 62 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks, putting it in the upper end of the moderate-risk category of 25-75 per 100,000.
One COVID patient was released from the hospital between Thursday and Friday, leaving two under continuing medical care, Berry said.
Locke said Jefferson is one of nine rural counties selected statewide for antibody testing. Clallam is not included.
Residents should begin receiving postcards this week saying they have been selected and asking them to give a blood sample. They also will receive a follow-up letter and phone call.
“We will help the University of Washington collect the specimens,” Locke said. “The University of Washington will draw the blood.”
Jefferson County is seeing an upward trend of COVID-19 cases.
Three were added Thursday and none Friday, bringing last week’s total to nine and the overall total to 427.
The weekly total is more than double the prior two week’s four cases.
The county’s 15.67 cases per 100,000 through last June 5 also is expected to rise to between 25 and 30 cases per 100,000, still lower than most areas of Washington state but concerning, he said.
Locke said that 73 percent of Jefferson County residents 16 and older had received one dose of the vaccine and 69.5 percent had received one dose as of June 9.
Berry said in Clallam County, 57 percent of the population 16 and over is completely vaccinated, and one dose has been administered to 62 percent of the population.
In Jefferson County, 62 percent of the entire population is vaccinated, the second highest in Washington state.
“I’d like that to be 85 percent,” Locke said. “That would be solid herd immunity.”
In Clallam County, 49 percent of the population has been vaccinated.
Berry said the UK variant, “a particularly nasty version of the virus,” is circulating on the West End, where vaccination rates are lower than the countywide rate.
“The key concern is there is that younger, healthier people can get very sick with that virus, as well as people with chronic conditions, and as well as people over 65,” she said.
She said the COVID-19 vaccine is available for walk-in shots at “the vast majority” of pharmacies throughout Clallam County.
Vaccine is also widely available in Jefferson County, Locke said, and self-test kits are available in chain drugstores.
“Our big message to people is, we are now only less than three weeks, about two weeks away from all the various, most of the covid restrictions, being lifted in Washington state,” Locke said of Gov. Jay Inslee’s June 31 goal.
“That’s going to make things more dangerous for the unvaccinated.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected]