Health officers: New state plan ties Peninsula from advancing

The new Healthy Washington plan unveiled Tuesday by Gov. Jay Inslee will at least temporarily impede the progress of reopening businesses and activities on the North Olympic Peninsula, say local health officers.

Clallam and Jefferson counties, each performing relatively well in slowing the spread of COVID-19, will be tied to the pandemic fortunes of Kitsap County and poorly performing Mason County in what is defined as the Northwest Region beginning Monday.

“In the near term, what this guarantees is no region will be able to quickly move to Phase 2,” said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County public health officer.

Each region will be required to meet four metrics to move from Phase 1 to Phase 2 of the new plan, which include a 10 percent decreasing trend in case rates, a 10 percent decrease in COVID-19 hospital administration rates; an ICU occupancy rate that’s less than 90 percent and a test positivity rate of less than 10 percent.

“If it was just Clallam and Jefferson counties, we could move to Phase 2 based on the metrics,” said Dr. Allison Berry Unthank, Clallam County public health officer.

“If it was just Clallam, Jefferson and Kitsap, we would be close to reaching Phase 2.

“Mason County is doing quite poorly,” she said. “Percent positivity of tests by state numbers is 16 percent, and their cases per 100,000 rate (for the previous two weeks) was over 300 through Jan. 3.”

Kitsap County, with a U.S. Census Bureau estimate of 271,473 residents, added 53 new cases Wednesday to bring its combined total to 4,059 since March.

Its rate of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 during the past 14 days is 168.3, a total that lags by five days to account for data completeness.

No percent positivity data is provided by Kitsap Public Health District.

The county also has seen 40 deaths attributed to COVID-19.

Mason County, with a population of 64,980, has seen 1,281 confirmed cases and 16 deaths from COVID-19 in total. A total of 170 cases have been confirmed in the last two weeks and the county’s rate of cases per 100,000 population is at 262 according to data provided Tuesday in the county’s last available update.

Unthank said she can understand “the concern and frustration” with being linked to Mason and Kitsap counties through the new state plan. It will mean another layer of responsibility is added to public health department duties.

“We coordinate with Kitsap already, and now we will expand to Mason County to see how they can move their numbers in a positive direction,” she said.

Locke said the regional system is likely intended to slow movement between counties with lower virus transmission and those with increased rates.

“That was the intent from the governor’s office to account for the regionalized spread, but the problems are the lines they draw on the map do not reflect the local conditions, necessarily,” Locke said.

“The thing that makes the least sense is adding Mason County. We have connections within these three counties (Clallam, Jefferson and Kitsap), especially with medical care.”

Case counts

Clallam County added three new cases Wednesday to bring its total to 776 since March, with all but 51 cases considered recovered. One case remains hospitalized.

Unthank confirmed that none of Wednesday’s new cases are connected to Olympic Medical Center, which reported two COVID-19 cases Tuesday, or the unnamed area long-term care facility, which has seen a total of 19 connected cases through Monday.

Unthank has previously said she will not identify a location unless it becomes difficult to trace contacts of cases associated with the outbreak.

Jefferson County added four cases Wednesday, and a late Tuesday case pushed the total number to 241 since March, with 195 recovered and two currently hospitalized.

“We are mostly seeing cases who were infected during the holiday period and are becoming symptomatic now,” Locke said.

“One of these cases is a household contact of an earlier case. Two were from out-of-county testing, but I don’t have any of the specifics about their exposure.”

1B priority

Unthank also discussed the announcement of those eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations in the state’s 1B designation.

“1B has been announced as people over the age of 70 and people over the age of 50 who live in a multigenerational household,” Unthank said.

“For those over 50, that means they live with an older relative or take care of children. It also would cover people who are caregivers for a single person. If you are a home health care worker taking care of multiple patients, you would be in the 1A designation.”

Locke likes the age range but had some qualms about the multigenerational household component.

“Seventy or over is a nice clean category that’s easy to implement,” he said.

“We have some concerns about the multigenerational household consideration … It’s easy to know a person’s age, but a person’s living conditions, that’s not something we put in medical records, so it will be mostly on the honor system.”

Locke said the 1B designation will cover a large chunk of Jefferson County’s population.

“When Jefferson Healthcare gets another shipment from Pfizer, that will be the green light to move into the first tier of 1B with a focus on people over the age of 70,” Locke said. “We are thinking that group over the age of 70 is at least 4,000 people in Jefferson County.”

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