Hospital and school districts on the North Olympic Peninsula reported being in full compliance Monday, the deadline for Gov. Jay Inslee’s statewide mandate to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or to receive an exemption — or be fired.
There were 441 workers who are staying unvaccinated for religious or medical reasons, Peninsula hospitals and schools reported.
They included the Port Angeles-based Olympic Medical Center hospital district, where 259 employees — 16 percent — of 1,640 workers sought and received exemptions from inoculations at the largest employer with the largest hospital in Clallam and Jefferson counties.
Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for both counties, was disappointed healthcare workers sought exemptions if they did not have a medical reason, but she said she was encouraged by the large number of healthcare workers who are vaccinated.
“The number of religions truly opposed to vaccination is very small,” said Berry, who was featured Monday in a New York Times story on the crisis in staffing, authority and community support for health departments across the country.
“That should be a relatively uncommon exemption,” Berry said.
She attributed health care workers’ reticence on widespread misnformation about the COVID-19 innoculation, adding they are already required to take other vaccines.
Peninsula Daily News emailed questions Monday to OMC, Forks Community Hospital and Jefferson Healthcare hospital in Port Townsend, and to school districts in Sequim, Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Forks and Neah Bay.
The questions asked how many employees had been fully vaccinated, how many were exempted for religious or medical reasons, and if they were medical or nonmedical workers, or teachers or nonteachers, including paraeducators.
Other questions asked how many employees had been terminated for not getting vaccinated by the Monday deadline set for healthcare employees and for workers in education settings.
Olympic Medical Center
Jennifer Burkhardt, OMC legal counsel and human resources officer, said 84 percent of employees were fully vaccinated as of Monday, while “a handful” are in the process of getting completely inoculated.
Nine refused the vaccine and had not received an exemption as of Monday, she said.
“Those employees have been removed from the work schedule, and we are working with each of them individually to determine next steps,” Burkhardt said.
Those not vaccinated by Monday have until Dec. 31 to provide a proof of vaccination or exemption, Burkhardt said.
Exempted healthcare workers must abide by safety measures, including weekly COVID-19 testing, that follow state Department of Health recommendations tailored to where they work at the facility.
A half-dozen employees at Forks Community Hospital on the West End — a geographic area of major concentration of the coronavirus, Berry has said — are no longer working at the facility as a result of Inslee’s mandate, CEO Heidi Anderson said.
“We are losing six employees who come from across the organization,” she said.
Sequim School District
Of 411 employees, all have been vaccinated or received exemptions, spokesperson Megan Lyke said.
About 41 are unvaccinated and have had their exemptions approved, she said.
Port Townsend School District
Superintendent Linda Rosenbury said 93 percent of 184 employees had shown proof of vaccination and 7 percent had received medical or religious exemptions.
Thirteen employees received religious exemptions and one received a medical exemption.
Those exempted are tested weekly and are wellness-screened daily.
Four of 79 teachers are exempted from getting vaccinated, Rosenbury said, adding there has been no in-school transmission of the coronavirus.
“Staff are great at wearing our masks,” she said. “There are safety measures in place.”
Port Angeles School District
Of 563 employees, 58, or 10.3 percent, are unvaccinated at the Port Angeles School District, spokesperson Carmen Geyer said.
Of 267 certificated staff — teachers, nurses and counselors — 18 are unvaccinated, with 15 granted exemptions, two pending vaccination or unpaid leave and one resignation.
Of 219 classified staff, 25 are unvaccinated, with 18 exemptions, five awaiting vaccine information or taking unpaid leave and one resignation.
Of 77 support staff — coaches and substitute teachers — 15 are unvaccinated, with six exemptions, eight awaiting vaccine information or taking unpaid leave and one resignation.
“As of 2 p.m., we do not have any terminations,” Geyer said.
Deputy health officer: Mandates may be ‘new normal’
Vaccination rates are rising across the state and nationally, the deputy public health officer for Jefferson County told commissioners Monday.
The delta variant of COVID-19 has changed some opinions on vaccination, Dr. Tom Locke told the board of county commissioners.
“A lot of people are reconsidering their decision not to get vaccinated in light of what we just went through,” Locke said.
“Like it or not, the mandates are going to be the new normal,” he added, referring to Gov. Jay Inslee’s requirement of all state workers and healthcare workers to be fully immunized.
Locke filled in Monday for Dr. Allison Berry, the health officer for Jefferson and Clallam counties who had another obligation Monday.
“We need to get population immunity to 90 percent or higher if we want this to come to an end,” Locke said.
Booster-shot clinics are planned in both Jefferson and Clallam counties this Saturday. For people who received their two doses of the Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago, Quilcene School, 294715 U.S. Highway 101, will be the venue for a booster shot from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. To make an appointment, go to co.jefferson.wa.us/1429/COVID-19.
A Moderna booster clinic is scheduled Saturday at Port Angeles High School, 304 E. Park Ave., in anticipation of final Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approval of a third Moderna shot. That approval is expected this week, Berry said.
Appointments for the Port Angeles clinic, set to start at 9 a.m., can be made at vaccine.clallam.net/register.
People older than 65 and those 18 or older with an underlying medical condition are eligible for boosters. Vaccines are also available at local pharmacies and from primary care providers.
Over the weekend, the Jefferson County Public Utilities District announced it would require all 54 of its employees to be vaccinated.
PUD General Manager Kevin Streett made the decision in order to comply with the state mandate and to protect the health of workers and the public, according to a press release.
The PUD currently has contracts with the state Department of Transportation, Streett said, “and, as part of the performance of that contract, our personnel are subject to the vaccination requirements.”
Up to two-thirds of the PUD’s employees work with state crews on various projects, spokesperson Will O’Donnell said Monday. Those include culvert replacements past and future, he said.
O’Donnell added that the PUD is negotiating with labor unions on the terms of the vaccination requirement; he could not say when the deadline will be for workers to get their shots.
On the Peninsula, COVID numbers are still climbing.
As of Monday afternoon, the case count reached 4,655 in Clallam County and 1,071 in Jefferson County. According to public health data, Jefferson saw seven new cases over the weekend, while 39 additional cases were confirmed in Clallam County.
Berry said the West End, along with workplace and social transmission, continue to be sources of new infections.
The pandemic’s death toll on the Peninsula remained the same at 69 people, and a total of 11 residents are hospitalized with the disease. Two were admitted over the weekend to Jefferson Healthcare hospital while another Jefferson patient was transferred to a Seattle hospital, Locke reported.
Eight Clallam County residents are hospitalized with COVID, Locke said.
“Now is not the time to back off by any means” from precautions, he said, adding that anyone who contracts COVID is at risk of developing the long form of the disease.
“Long COVID” symptoms — including brain fog, chronic pain and fatigue — can affect an individual’s life for months after the initial diagnosis, he said.
This “makes it all the more important that we prevent any cases of COVID” through immunization, Locke said.
Getting vaccinated is more than a personal decision; “a lot of what you’re doing is protecting other people,” he added.
“The stakes have really never been higher,” he said.
“If we increase vaccination rates and continue masking and other control measures, we could see a steady drop over the winter,” but if immunization trends lag and people stop being careful, a Christmas time surge may be possible, Locke said.
A return to many normal activities could come around March — depending on what people do between now and then, he said.