Berry: ‘It feels like the dam is breaking’

The current COVID-19 infection rates on the North Olympic Peninsula are mirroring the surge seen during the 2020 Thanksgiving holiday season, and officials are struggling to keep up with contact tracing.

“At this point, it feels like the dam is breaking,” said Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Jefferson and Clallam counties.

Due to the high level of cases, local contract tracers must rely on help from the state, Berry said.

“We have numerous outbreaks throughout the county, in workplace settings primarily at this point, so it’s not just travel related anymore,” she said.

“It’s straining our public health system at this point.

“We don’t have adequate contact tracing capacity for all the cases that are coming in,” she continued.

“We’re prioritizing cases that are a high risk — cases in health care settings, cases in congregate settings — and the rest of the cases are being sent to the state,” she continued.

“We are reaching the limit of contract tracing’s ability to control infection.”

Clallam County confirmed 15 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, while Jefferson County added nine new cases, according to county public health data.

Clallam County’s case rate rose to 209 cases per 100,000 population for the last two weeks as of Thursday. That approaches the highest case rate the county has seen — 216 cases per 100,000 — which was recorded in November, Berry said.

Jefferson County has reached 147.34 cases per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Saturday, the second highest case rate it has reported since the pandemic began, Berry said.

Jefferson County’s highest case rate of 156 per 100,000 was also recorded last November during the holiday season surge, Berry said.

Community mitigation measures such as mask wearing, limiting indoor interactions and social distancing are needed in addition to contact tracing to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, Berry said.

“We’re going to keep fighting it,” Berry said. “We’re not giving up. Certainly our staff are frantically contact tracing as we speak, but we’re reaching the limit of our ability.”

There are currently discussions among the state and the health officers about what other mitigation measures they might impose, but no plans have been made yet, Berry said.

The majority of new infections are among unvaccinated residents, with about 8 percent of cases since mid-January being breakthrough cases in Clallam County and 6 percent being breakthroughs in Jefferson, Berry said.

A breakthrough case is infection with COVID-19 in a person who has had a final dose of vaccine more than weeks earlier.

Berry has been urging all residents 12 and older who are not yet vaccinated against COVID-19 and can be, to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Data compiled by the state Department of Health shows that in Jefferson County, 75.1 percent of residents 12 and older have initiated vaccinations, 71.9 percent are fully vaccinated, and 69.1 percent of the total population has started vaccinations, and 66.2 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the state’s dashboard.

Clallam County has vaccinated 65.3 percent of residents 12 and older with at least one dose, with 60.8 percent fully vaccinated, while 58 percent of the total population has begun vaccinations with 54 percent fully vaccinated, according to the state’s dashboard.

2021 has already more than doubled 2020 for more cases of COVID-19 being confirmed in both counties, with Clallam County having 1,759 total COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, and on Jan. 1, the total number of cases was 756, Berry said.

Jefferson County has a total of 534 cases as of Thursday, after starting the year at 229 confirmed cases, Berry said.

“Things getting quite serious quite quickly,” Berry said. “We’re really going to need the whole community to come together to get this under control.

“We can do it. We’ve done it before, but we’re going to need the community to take this seriously.”

Seventeen people have died from COVID-19 in Clallam County and four have died in Jefferson County.