Gov. Jay Inslee.

Gov. Jay Inslee.

Teachers ordered to be vaccinated

6,000 people in quarantine on Peninsula

Gov. Jay Inslee has ordered all public, private and charter school teachers, staff, contractors and other employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19 or be required to find other employment as of Oct. 18.

Meanwhile, cases are soaring on the North Olympic Peninsula.

Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Jefferson and Clallam counties, said Wednesday that volunteers and staff members can no longer keep up with contact tracing on the Peninsula.

About 6,000 people in the two counties were in quarantine as of Wednesday due to exposure to COVID-19, Berry said.

Because of the drastically high number of contacts and cases, contract tracers are no longer able to call contacts of confirmed cases, and they are calling only the confirmed cases and those in high-risk outbreak situations, asking them to reach out to their contacts.

“If you are exposed to COVID-19, you’re unlikely to be called by the public health department,” Berry said. “We call all the cases, and we give them information to give to their contacts, but you won’t get a call from us anymore.

“Right now, we have 6,000 people in quarantine, so we just can’t call everyone. We used to say if you didn’t get a call from public health, that means you weren’t exposed.

“That is no longer true.”

Clallam County confirmed 41 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday. Jefferson County confirmed eight new cases.

Clallam County set a record for its highest case rate since the pandemic began, recording a rate of 392 cases per 100,000 population for the past two weeks as of Wednesday, according to county public health data.

Jefferson County reports its case rates weekly. The county recorded its highest case rate so far on Saturday at 235.11 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior.

Clallam County has confirmed a total of 2,068 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, 358 of which have been confirmed since the start of this month.

Jefferson County has confirmed a total of 617 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, 101 of which have been confirmed in August.

Inslee’s vaccination mandate for school staff follows one he set earlier that requires state workers, health care workers and long-term care workers to get fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or lose their jobs.

Inslee announced the newest order in a press conference Wednesday afternoon in which he also revived a statewide masking mandate for indoor spaces for people 5 and older beginning next Monday.

The statewide masking mandate is similar to the county mandate that Berry put into place on this past Monday.

In addition to the school districts, the vaccination mandate for school employees does apply to college and university staff as well, but not the students, Inslee said.

School employees can apply for medical and religious exemptions from being vaccinated, but personal and philosophical exemptions are not permitted, Inslee said.

Some individual colleges and universities have made their own requirements for students to be vaccinated when they return to the campus in fall.

The vaccination and mask mandates from the state stem from the continuing exponential transmission of COVID-19 that is being recorded statewide, driven by the more contagious delta variant of COVID-19, leading to hospitals straining to keep up with the surge in patients, Inslee said.

About 95 percent of patients being hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated, Inslee said.

Berry supports the orders Inslee announced Wednesday, as the masking order mirrors her own, and she continues to strongly urge all residents 12 and older to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

“We know that masks are safe, effective and simple,” Berry said. “They’re quite literally the least we can do right now to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“I was happy to see the expansion of the vaccine mandate,” she added.

“I have been very clear about supporting COVID-19 vaccinations in our community. I think it’s very important that we do everything we can to keep our schools safe this fall and keep them open.”

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected]

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