While COVID-19 cases continued their downward trend, North Olympic Peninsula residents flocked to vaccination sites for first and second doses, culminating in a rush Friday and Saturday to make up for last week’s lost weekend.
Medical personnel at the Port Angeles High School auxiliary gym were set to deliver upward of 1,000 doses to Clallam County residents Saturday, said county Undersheriff-Emergency Management Director Ron Cameron, who was working the site. It’s open today as well for those with appointments.
A Feb. 11 snowstorm had closed mass-vaccination points in Clallam and Jefferson counties last weekend, leading to a deluge of recipients, Cameron said.
Jefferson County Health Officer Tom Locke estimated Saturday that more than 1,000 doses were distributed at Jefferson Healthcare hospital and three area pharmacies.
Cameron said 400 people ages 65 and older had streamed through the gym doors by noon, in and out in 45 minutes to an hour.
People shuttled from station to station under the attentive care of 30-35 volunteers, not including more than North Olympic Healthcare Network medical personnel who delivered the vaccine and made sure their patients were good to go.
The mood was downright jocular.
“The community has just been very supportive and very happy,” said Cameron, serving as official greeter for the masses, no doubt anxious but relieved.
“Occasionally, we get bogged down, but nobody complains. Hey, they let wheelchairs go ahead of them. It’s very, very nice.”
Cameron expected well over 2,000 doses would be distributed in Port Angeles, Sequim and Forks through Sunday.
As of Friday morning, 19,760 residents, or 26 percent, had received at least their first dose, county Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry said at a COVID-19 briefing. Clallam has had the highest vaccination rate in the state.
Eight percent of residents had been fully vaccinated, a number that will rise substantially after today, Cameron predicted.
“We’re getting a lot of older folks, a lot who are 70 and older folks from last month who are coming back for their second shot,” he said.
The number of Clallam County COVID-19 cases is approaching 1,000. Two more cases were reported as of Saturday, bringing the total to 988 as the positivity rate declines. Five residents have died.
The positivity rate was 2.4 percent over the last two weeks compared to a positivity rate of 2.8 for 39,403 tests performed over nearly a year. The county’s first COVID briefing was 51 meetings ago, Cameron noted Friday.
Forty-four COVID patients have been hospitalized, though none currently.
Locke said Jefferson County Healthcare hospital is vaccinating residents at a 1,200-a-week clip, working from oldest to youngest in the oldest county in the state. Those 72 and older are now being vaccinated, with anyone over 65 allowed to sign up as the age limit declines.
As of Friday, Jefferson County’s positivity rate was 1.76 percent, with another case recorded late Friday and no additional cases by noon Saturday, bringing the total to 331 cases, Locke said. Two people have died.
“This was another week of fairly low case numbers, four or five,” Locke said Saturday.
“As with other places in the state, and with Clallam County, we’re definitely continuing the downward slope of the third wave,” he said.
“This is a real sort of fork-in-the-road time period in the pandemic. If it weren’t for the emergence of these variants, we would be feeling a lot more confident on how this is going to go.
“The variants are a really significant and worrisome development. They are more transmissible and more contagious, especially the South African one.”
The South African variant is possibly vaccine-resistant, researchers have said.
There were 18 cases of the UK strain in Washington state as of Friday, Locke said.
There is evidence the South African and UK strains are 30 percent- 70 percent more transmissible than the prevalent strain that has afflicted the U.S. for more than a year, the D614G variant, he said.
The emergence of more variants makes it even more important to continue to wear masks in public and socially distance.
“If we do things wrong, it could bring us into a fourth wave a month from now,” Locke said.
West End residents were doing things right Friday and Saturday.
They came out in droves to the Peninsula College parking lot in Forks for no-appointment-needed shots at the nearby Quillayute Valley School District auxiliary gym.
Forks Community Hospital CEO Heidi Anderson said 1,270 vaccines were administered over the two days, including 580 Saturday.
It was a West End family affair. Hospital personnel administered the vaccine. Volunteers included fire and police department personnel and emergency medical technicians. A team of young adults lent a hand.
City Attorney-Planner Rod Fleck directed parking lot traffic. The pace was nonstop.
“They are flying through,” he said at noon.
“It’s an adventure, for sure.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at pgottlieb@ peninsuladailynews.com.