Physicians: Pandemic is in hands of community

Five doctors, amid the rise in COVID-19 deaths on the North Olympic Peninsula, asked for the community’s help during a public health briefing.

“We are seeing so many younger, healthier people who are really sick from this virus,” said Dr. Lusana Schutz, who works in Olympic Medical Center’s emergency room, during the Sept. 10 briefing in Clallam County.

OMC is being forced “to make space for this incredible influx of patients,” she added.

“Most of them are unvaccinated.

“It is so hard to see the suffering and death of patients that is unnecessary … we are working very hard, and people are very tired.”

Since the first of September, Clallam and Jefferson counties have lost 21 men and women, raising the total number of COVID deaths on the Olympic Peninsula to 46.

These include Stanley K. Comeau of Port Angeles, a well-known radio broadcaster who was 61 when he died Sept. 3. Irene H. Lukey of Sequim was 88 when she died Sept. 6 at the Sequim Health & Rehabilitation Center after exposure to COVID.

The Sept. 10 briefing included the report of two more Clallam residents who had just died: a man in his 50s who was unvaccinated and a woman in her 90s who had been vaccinated but succumbed to COVID in one of several long-term care facility outbreaks.

In Jefferson County, two men in their 70s, also part of the long-term care center outbreaks, died from COVID.

“These are very vulnerable people and it’s painful to have not been able to protect them,” Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, said last week.

Transmission of COVID throughout the community is at an all-time high, Berry said during that morning’s briefing, adding there’s a stark disconnect between what people out in the community are seeing and what workers inside hospitals are dealing with.

Olympic Medical Center hospitalist Dr. Evgeny Bistrika fervently agreed.

“We are working hard on your behalf,” he said. Now he is pleading with community members to get immunized and wear masks outside their households — to help stem the tide of COVID patients into the intensive care unit.

“One less person (admitted to the hospital) would be a huge help,” he said.

The North Olympic Peninsula’s number of residents diagnosed with COVID since the pandemic’s onset reached 4,280 last week: 3,425 in Clallam County and 855 in Jefferson.

Children infected

“We’re seeing cases in children,” Berry said, adding many stem from parents who are unvaccinated.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Dr. Michael Maxwell,CEO of the North Olympic Healthcare Network, said during the Sept. 10 briefing.

Yet there is “so much misinformation, and misunderstanding and self-focus that is keeping us from healing as a community,” he said, adding that accurate information comes from fellow community members.

Local medical professionals “are committed to you, and accountable to you for your health and well-being. And they will tell you, without hesitation, that vaccination is absolutely the best way to protect yourself, and protect the ones you love, and protect the neighbors you share the community with.”

The vaccines are safe and they work, Berry said again, adding they are the No. 1 way people can reduce COVID’s spread. Wearing a mask correctly also “makes a huge difference. It’s a small thing you can do.”

She noted that from one unmasked gathering at a Clallam County bar, 17 people tested positive. They went on to infect more than 100 other people.

That outbreak led to two deaths, she said.

“Now is the moment to hunker down,” Dr. Scott Kennedy, Olympic Medical Center’s chief medical officer, said on Sept. 10.

“Use the measures that we know work. Get vaccinated,” and practice social distancing, avoid indoor large gatherings and wear a mask, “so we don’t end up in a more critical situation.”

Kennedy, Maxwell, Schutz and Bistrika expressed their full support for Berry’s mandates of masking and proof of full vaccination for indoor dining and bars. Berry, for her part, emphasized that her public health team has worked to exhaustion trying to prevent the death toll from rising.

The mortality rate for the original coronavirus is 2 percent, she noted. The delta variant’s mortality rate is 3 percent.

That means if left unchecked until 85 percent of the population has had COVID, Clallam County could see 1,963 deaths, she noted.

“We are in an unprecedented public health event,” Maxwell added.

“If we get through this, it’s going to require that we all work together toward a common goal. That might mean stepping up, and stepping outside of our personal comfort zone, but it’s the right thing to do and the necessary thing to do for the health of our community.”