Both Jefferson and Clallam counties will be ready to move into Phase 1B2 by the state’s March 22 start date, but waiting until then may cause a pause in mass vaccinations on the North Olympic Peninsula.
Local health officers are working with state officials to see the potential of the two counties moving forward a few days early to prevent delays, as the counties lead the state in the percentage of people vaccinated with at least one dose.
In Clallam County, appointments for vaccinations have slowed to the point of not needing two mass vaccination clinics this weekend in Port Angeles, and may necessitate pausing the clinic the following weekend if the state doesn’t allow for the county to start a few days early, Dr. Allison Berry, Clallam County health officer, said Wednesday morning.
“We’re running out of people to vaccinate in 1B1,” Berry said at the Coffee with Colleen presentation hosted by Colleen McAleer, executive director of the Clallam County Economic Development Council.
Jefferson County also will be ready to move into 1B2 by the end of next week, but county Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke thinks there shouldn’t be a major problem filling appointments — if it receives enough vaccine.
While it was unknown Wednesday what vaccination amounts each county would receive next week, it is possible the state may funnel doses from the Peninsula to other areas that are behind in their 1B1 vaccinations, Locke said.
If the state did that, it could hamper vaccination efforts in Jefferson County, Locke said.
“We want to keep the vaccine flowing and just keep moving on this,” he said.
Phase 1B2 includes critical workers in congregate settings such as grocery stores, food banks, agriculture, courts, jails and corrections, as well as first responders not vaccinated under 1A, and pregnant women, Berry said.
The state is working on several plans outside of the vaccination phases, such as informing officials of the expected vaccine shipment amounts weeks in advance instead of the week of or the week before, Locke said.
Also among that planning is the eventual next phase of the “Roadmap to Recovery,” Locke and Berry said.
The specifics are still changing, but after a state health officers’ meeting last Friday, both Locke and Berry think it’s likely the state may change the region system to smaller areas or return to county-by-county and that the metrics will rely more on case rates.
Jefferson, Clallam and San Juan counties have had some of the lowest case rates all year. Currently both Clallam and Jefferson counties have case rates below 30 per 100,000 population.
Once Phase 3 is announced, if there are no spikes in cases, both counties could be some of the first to move forward on expanded economic openings, Locke and Berry said.
Health officers across the state agree case rates and pure numbers should be monitored rather than trends, Peninsula officers said.
When the Roadmap was first introduced, areas around Interstate 5 with drops in case rates from more than 400 to more than 300 were able to move forward, but they were in a more dangerous place epidemiologically than places with lower case rates, Berry said.
Places like the North Olympic Peninsula experienced dropping case rates, but they were already lower than most places, so the changes were less extreme, and the smaller percentage of improvement didn’t allow the counties to move forward, she said.
While both counties are doing well in terms of case numbers, both health officers urge residents to remain cautious and keep following COVID prevention protocols such as wearing face masks, keeping social distance, limiting travel and gatherings, practicing good hand hygiene and get tested if people have respiratory illness symptoms, they said.
While current trends are good, the more contagious U.K. variant is still spreading in the state, and that poses a risk of new cases, Locke said.
“We’d be very confident in this if not for the variant infections that have been spreading,” he said. “It’s difficult to know just how much of a factor that is going to be.
“Are we just in a lull of a storm right now and we have fourth wave coming, or has the storm really abated? That’s the question.”
Clallam County confirmed four new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday among a single household with children, Berry said.
Jefferson County held steady with no new cases since Feb. 25, Locke said.
Clallam County’s test positivity — the percentage of tests returned positive — was 1.6 percent from Feb. 21 to March 7, according to Clallam County Public Health data.
Jefferson County’s test positivity was zero percent for March 1-7.
Clallam County has confirmed 21 cases of COVID-19 so far this month, about 2.05 percent of the 1,022 cases confirmed during the past year, according to Clallam County data.
Jefferson County has not reported a case this month but has 336 in the past year, according to Jefferson County Public Health data.
Sixteen COVID-19 cases were active as of Wednesday in Clallam County. Jefferson County had no active cases.
Jefferson County is in the state’s low-risk category with a case rate of 15.67 per 100,000 population for the two weeks prior as of Saturday.
Clallam County is in the state’s moderate-risk category with a case rate of 29 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as to Wednesday.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected]