A North Olympic Peninsula woman in her 80s whose entire family was unvaccinated became Clallam County’s 12th COVID-19 fatality late last week as the travel-heavy Memorial Day weekend arrived.
The woman, who was being treated in a hospital intensive care unit, is the 16th person to die from the coronavirus in Jefferson and Clallam counties even as Jefferson stayed the second most vaccinated county and Clallam the third.
The woman, whose death was announced Friday, contracted it locally, Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry said at the last of 65 public coronavirus briefings.
Berry did not know if the family has since been vaccinated, she said Saturday in a text message.
“We certainly do offer vaccinations in these kinds of cases,” Berry said.
Jefferson County recorded its fourth death from the coronavirus last week, a woman in her 60s who was undergoing cancer treatment.
She contracted COVID-19 the week after she received her second shot, about a week before the vaccine would have become fully effective, the first death of a partially vaccinated individual, Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke said Saturday.
He noted that an estimated 30 percent of those who survive the disease have lingering side effects. That estimate does not include undiagnosed cases equalling four to 10 times the number of cases actually reported, Locke added.
Berry reported 83,755 doses of COVID-19 vaccine distributed among Clallam County’s 77,000 residents as of Friday.
Medical officials say, and studies have shown, the vaccine is more effective than was first thought in preventing infection and transmission.
“It’s nearly impossible to get this virus outdoors,” Berry said at Friday’s briefing.
“For individuals who are testing positive for COVID-19, when we do their contact tracing, we find that three-quarters of the people they come in contact with have been fully vaccinated, and the virus has stopped there.
“That really shows the power of the vaccine to decrease transmission,” she said.
“The troubling trend is that while we are seeing less and less infection, we are seeing more and more severe infections as we move forward.
“Your risk of getting severely ill if you contract this virus if you are unvaccinated is at least higher than it used to be when we first started this,” Berry said.
“Get vaccinated so you’re protected from these more severe strains and so that we can keep getting these numbers down and keep getting our life more back to normal.”
On Memorial Day 2020, Clallam had 25 cases compared to 1,345 as of Saturday, while Jefferson had 30 cases compared to 416 Saturday, or 4.8 cases a day in the two counties over the last year.
“What I am worried about is people traveling,” Berry said before this year’s holiday weekend.
In Clallam County, 55 percent of residents over 16 are fully vaccinated, and 61 percent have received their first shots.
In Jefferson County, 72 percent of residents have received their first shot, exceeding Inslee’s threshold.
Locke and Berry urged unvaccinated residents to wear masks indoors this holiday weekend but said it’s safe to go maskless outdoors.
“If we see large groups of unvaccinated people gathering indoors, we are going to see outbreaks,” Berry said.
Gov. Jay Inslee has pledged to allow businesses to restore 100 percent capacity occupancy by June 30, and earlier if 70 percent of the state’s 16 and older population has received at least their first dose of the vaccine.
“Honestly, I think June 30 is a little concerning,” Berry said.
“The probability that we’ll fully hit 70 percent by June 30 is low. We’re likely to still see transmission on June 30.”
Locke said the problem with the 70 percent herd-immunity threshold is that on any given day, Jefferson County includes more than residents, one reason he’s keeping his mask mandate in effect for people entering businesses.
“Exposure is really about the likelihood of how much infection is circulating in the community and how much is moving within the community from travelers and visitors,” he said.
“I don’t want businesses to have to battle visitors,” Locke said, adding that it’s impractical to have them screen all customers to determine if they are vaccinated.
“I don’t know where the state will be in another month, but I think it’s possible that 70 percent of 16 and older will have their initial vaccinations.”
What worries Locke is the spread of variants, which vaccines are effective in fighting. If variants make incursions among those who are unvaccinated, then a higher-percentage herd immunity may be needed to reopen the economy.
“The math says the immunity level has to be in the 80 to 85 percent range to stop transmission of the current UK-type COVID variants,” Locke said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].