Peninsula health care system starting to see strain

Clallam County’s health care system is starting to show strain as officials manage six COVID-19 patients, in addition to non-virus-related cases, and Seattle hospitals have been filling with trauma victims from various incidents.

Five of the six hospitalizations stem from a church outbreak that Clallam County officials have been investigating, and three of those are in the Intensive Care Unit, said Dr. Allison Berry, Clallam County health officer. Two are on ventilators, she added.

Clallam County confirmed seven new COVID-19 cases over the weekend, while Jefferson County confirmed three new cases, according to county public health data.

The unidentified church outbreak has increased to 22 total cases, and Berry said she’s concerned about the number of hospitalizations.

“We’re really in the peak of that outbreak right now,” she said. “We’re not really seeing a significant rise in cases, but we’re at the point in the outbreak where we’d see the most severe infection.

“The initial infection was about three weeks ago, which now is when we’d start to see those who were infected get very ill, and unfortunately we’re starting to see that.”

The county has limited hospital bed capacity, especially in ICU, and while it’s normal for both Clallam and Jefferson counties to have ICU patients transferred to a Seattle hospital, those locations also are starting to strain due to COVID patients in addition to a normal increase in trauma patients during summer, Berry said.

“We are definitely starting to see some strain on our health care system, largely related to this outbreak,” she said.

Berry said she’s “cautiously optimistic” about the long-term care facility outbreak holding at 17 cases since June 10. If all testing this Friday returns negative, that outbreak will be considered over, she said.

Both Berry and Dr. Tom Locke continue to urge unvaccinated residents to get vaccinated for COVID-19 as soon as possible.

Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to lift most COVID restrictions on June 30 or earlier if the state reaches 70 percent of residents 16 and older receiving at least one-dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and it appears if that state reaches that mark, it will be at about the end of the month, Locke told the Board of Jefferson County Commissioners on Monday.

When restrictions are lifted, virus transmission risk for unvaccinated residents will increase, Locke said.

“As we make this change in the state, it’s going to make things more unsafe for unvaccinated residents,” he said. “I urge anyone who has made the decision to not get vaccinated to revisit that decision.”

Locke stressed that COVID-19 is not like most illnesses where people fall sick, recover and have no remaining symptoms, as many severe COVID-19 patients have residual symptoms stay with them for months after they have recovered from the initial infection.

Vaccination clinics on the North Olympic Peninsula can be found at tinyurl.com/OPvacc.

The state has a vaccination locator at vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov, which allows users to see where appointments are available and which vaccine will be used.

While all state residents 12 and older are eligible to be vaccinated, anyone younger than 18 can receive only Pfizer’s vaccine.

Seventy-eight cases have been confirmed in June so far in Clallam County, about 5.46 percent of 1,429 cases reported since the pandemic began, according to county data.

Jefferson County has confirmed 26 cases this month, about 5.87 percent of the 443 total cases since the pandemic began, according to county data.

Twenty-three cases were active in Clallam County on Monday, while Jefferson County had eight active cases.

Clallam County is in the state’s high-risk category with a case rate of 79 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks as of Monday. As the two large outbreaks in Clallam County are brought to an end, Berry expects the case rate to start dropping again.

Jefferson County is in the state’s moderate-risk category with a case rate of 68.97 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Saturday.

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