State seeing ‘significant surge’ of virus variant

Residents should continue to follow masking, social distancing and other COVID-19 prevention guidelines as the state moves closer to non-restricted vaccinations for adults, North Olympic Peninsula health officers said.

All Washington residents 16 and older will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations beginning April 15, and simultaneously, both Clallam and Jefferson counties are vaccinating residents while variants of the virus that are more transmissible and potentially more harmful spread across the state.

It’s been estimated by state officials that 35 percent of new cases in the state during the past two weeks are from the more contagious U.K. variant (B117), which is also showing to cause more severe symptoms, said Dr. Allison Berry, Clallam County health officer.

“We’re starting to see a significant surge,” Berry said. “It’s the first time we’ve started to see it hit Clallam, but it’s something that we really have been anticipating.

“I think that we’ve been talking about a time when we’d see a significant rise in variants, and that time is now. While we’ve had so much success here, and we’re so close to being done with this, our success is still quite tenuous.

“Especially now with the rise in the B117 variant.”

Clallam County is awaiting genetic sequencing results on three suspected U.K. variant cases discovered last week.

While vaccination efforts continue toward levels of herd immunity against the novel coronavirus, masking, social distancing, avoiding gatherings and limiting travel will be crucial in controlling the spread of the virus and keeping businesses from having to close again, said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.

People getting vaccinated as soon as they’re eligible is also an important step, he said.

“This is not important for personal benefit, but also community benefit,” Locke said.

If the counties and state can limit the impacts of the fourth wave, “this could be the endgame for the pandemic,” Locke said.

“We want to get back to normal, but it’s still too soon for that,” he said.

Other counties, such as Pierce, Yakima and Kittitas, which currently have case rates above 200 per 100,000 population for the past two weeks, could be moved back into Phase 2 of the state’s Roadmap to Recovery plan due to the level of virus transmission, Locke said.

“We’ve come so far economically,” Berry said. “Everybody is so excited about being in Phase 3, but that could very easily go away.”

Those 16 and older who qualify under the present-tier eligibility can get shots now. Of the three COVID-19 vaccines with emergency use authorization, only Pfizer’s is allowed for people 16 and older, while the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson brands are authorized for people 18 and older.

Both counties are in vaccination phases 1B3 and 1B4, which include restaurant, construction, agriculture and other congregate workers, as well as people 60 and older. It also covers people with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, lung or heart disease as well as chemotherapy patients.

The conditions listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are published at tinyurl.com/PDN-ChronicConditions.

Locke and Berry said anyone with a chronic medical condition is probably eligible now.

Those previously eligible for vaccinations remain eligible for shots.

Appointments for Saturday’s clinic at Port Angeles High School — there will not be a clinic Sunday due to appointment demand — can be made at vaccine.clallam.net/register. Appointments also can be made by phone at 360-417-2430.

The Jamestown S’Klallam Clinic is not providing first-dose vaccinations this week.

Appointments for Jefferson Healthcare’s clinic can be made at jeffersonhealthcare.org/covid-19-vaccine.

Clallam County confirmed three new cases of COVID-19 Monday, while Jefferson County confirmed five new cases between Sunday and Monday, according to county data.

Clallam County has confirmed 23 cases of COVID-19 so far this month, about 2.11 percent of the 1,088 cases during the past year, according to county data.

Jefferson County confirmed five cases so far this month, about 1.42 percent of the 351 cases in the past year, according to county Public Health data.

Thirty-four COVID-19 cases were active as of Monday in Clallam County. Jefferson County had seven active cases.

Jefferson County is in the state’s low-risk category with a case rate of about 22 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Saturday, while Clallam County is in the state’s moderate-risk category with a case rate of 54 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior to Monday.

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