Thanksgiving precautions paid off, say Olympic Peninsula health officers

Keep it up, the North Olympic Peninsula’s health officers said last week.

Clallam County residents did a good job of limiting travel and out-of-county visitors during Thanksgiving and that kept the expected Thanksgiving surge limited locally, said Dr. Allison Unthank, Clallam County health officer, Friday.

The same was true in Jefferson County, according to Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke.

“We saw cases tied to Thanksgiving travel, but it was a small number,” he said. “People deserve a lot of credit.”

Locke pointed out “a statewide surge and a horrible national surge” in COVID-19 cases tied to Thanksgiving, but said that the Peninsula avoided it because people listened to health guidelines and took precautions.

“I hope we can do the same for Christmas,” Unthank said.

“Please, as much as possible, limit your gatherings to your household or with a maximum of one other household,” she continued during her Friday briefing.

“Please do not travel. Please do not get on a plane or a bus or a train. Please do not have other people come in to Clallam County,” she said.

“We want to get more vaccine into the community without a significant surge.”

Said Locke: “The hardest thing is ideally holding household-only gatherings.

“This is going to be even more challenging over Christmas.”

The initial inoculations of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine were given last week to health care workers and more vaccinations are planned this week.

Jefferson Healthcare began inoculations on Wednesday and continued clinics last week with more planned this week. Vaccine shots are prioritized, with those on the front lines receiving them first. Olympic Medical Center completed about 80 vaccinations Friday, said Ryan Hueter, spokesperson, and capacity is expected to increase this week.

The next doses of the Pfizer vaccine are anticipated to arrive by Dec. 31, Hueter said, saying that this second shipment is not expected to be cut despite the state receiving fewer doses than it had been told it would get.

Unthank said the Moderna vaccine, which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday, could arrive on the Peninsula sometime this week. The Moderna vaccine should make up for the cut announced last week in the Pfizer vaccine doses, she said.

It will be the end of January before groups other than the 1A Group receive Vaccine, Unthank said. The next group includes residents and workers in places such assisted living facilities and shelters.

Local volunteer pilots with the Disaster Airlift Response Team (DART) plan a trial run to Forks on Tuesday to see if they can transport the Pfizer vaccine without compromising the extremely low temperature it requires for storage. The test was originally set last week but was postponed because of bad weather.

With the end in sight, it is more important than ever to continue health precautions such as avoiding travel, gathering only with those in one’s household, wearing masks when shopping or in other similar indoor situations, hand-washing and social distancing, Locke said.

“This is one of the worst possible times to catch (COVID-19),” Locke said. “No. 1, the finish line is in sight. No. 2, hospitals are stressed out. Hopefully, the vaccine will motivate people to make hard decisions.”

Asked about the vaccine’s safety, Unthank said that cancer survivors and people with compromised immune systems are safe to get it. The one group for which she urged some caution in pregnant women because there is no testing data for this population.

“There’s no evidence that it’s dangerous for women who are breastfeeding, but there’s no safety data for women who are pregnant,” she said. “ We do recommend that women who are pregnant should have a conversation with their health care provider about the pros and cons of getting vaccinated because it’s a complex choice.”

Said Locke: “Based on what we know, this vaccine is remarkably safe.”

He said he understands people having concerns now since only 22,000 people have received the Pfizer vaccine so far.

“We’ll know a lot more when 2 million people have gotten it,” he said. Locke said the “overwhelmingly” known side effect is simply “the feeling that you’re coming down with something.”

Clallam County had three new cases Friday and six new positives Saturday. That gives Clallam County 664 cases since March and 57 active cases. The infection rate in Clallam County is 121 per 100,000 over the past two weeks, still in the high-risk category, but considerably lower than November, when the rate rose to over 200 per 100,000.

Jefferson County had three new cases Friday and none reported Saturday. That gives Jefferson County 202 total cases since March with 10 active cases and an infection rate of 94 per 100,000. That is still in the high-risk category, but down from more than 150 per 100,000 in November.

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