Two die of COVID-19; Clallam cases surge

Fifty-eight new COVID-19 cases were confirmed on the North Olympic Peninsula on Thursday and two people died of the virus.

Most of the new cases — 51 — were in Clallam County, which had reported 18 on Wednesday.

The jump in cases probably reflected an outbreak at Clallam Bay Corrections Center, said Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties. She reported 144 cases there.

Seven new cases were in Jefferson County.

The deaths were both in Clallam County.

“Unfortunately, we have had two more deaths in Clallam County, so 46 total deaths to date,” Berry said.

“Both were women in their 60s and 90s, and both were fully vaccinated residents in long-term care, so they died as a result of the long-term care facility outbreaks that we have right now,” Berry said.

As of Sept. 19, seven long-term care facilities in Clallam County and one in Jefferson County had reported outbreaks.

The total number of cases by Thursday had reached 4,028 since the pandemic began, with a case rate of 1,021 per 100,000 population and a near 19 percent positivity rate, which is a decrease from Sept. 6.

Positivity rate is the rate of COVID-19 tests that return positive. Berry has said the goal is to keep positivity rate under 2 percent. Otherwise, cases are being missed.

Berry reported seven new cases in Jefferson County, bringing its total to 956 cases since the pandemic began.

On Thursday, 10 Clallam County residents were hospitalized for a total of 178 hospitalizations since the pandemic began.

Five Jefferson County residents are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, two at Jefferson Healthcare hospital, the other three at Seattle hospitals. That brings Jefferson’s total hospitalizations since the pandemic began to 61.

OMC stats

Olympic Medical Center officials were seeing faint glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel during a press conference on Thursday.

Leadership at the Port Angeles-based hospital said nearly 85 percent of OMC staff are fully vaccinated against the virus, and the facility had a record low of nine patients hospitalized with COVID-19, and that it is safer now to perform certain surgeries that had been postponed.

OMC had closed three of its four surgery lines to free staff to handle the pandemic, leaving one line open for urgent and emergency surgeries. The hope is to open a second line of surgery to begin getting to patients whose procedures were postponed.

Despite initial concern about losing staff due to a state-ordered vaccination mandate, OMC has maintained most of its staff, said Jennifer Burkhardt, director of human resources and hospital legal counsel.

OMC has hosted five employee vaccination clinics to date.

Like many medical centers across the country, OMC is struggling with staffing and employee burnout.

“Trying to maintain adequate staffing has been a challenge,” Burkhardt said. “We have enough ventilators and continue to build out spaces for caring for COVID-19 patients.”

“Although we have enough beds for patients, sufficient supplies of PPE and medications, staffing is a finite resource and we are feeling that strain more than ever,” she added.

OMC currently has more than 1,650 employees but still has nearly 230 job openings in such critical positions as respiratory therapists, physical therapists, social workers, nurses and medical assistants.

These shortages are not unique to OMC, Burkhardt said. Hospitals all over the nation are facing similar challenges.

“In looking at the number of openings at some of the hospitals nearby, Jefferson Healthcare had 104 open positions as of last week, and St.Michaels in Silverdale had over 1,500 openings as of last week!” Burkhardt said.

Another shortage is monoclonal antibodies, one of the treatments used to treat people with COVID-19 who are at risk of developing severe disease.

The Clallam County Department of Health informed OMC last week that, due to a nationwide shortage of supplies, it should not expect another shipment for three weeks.

Also, because of shortages, eligibility parameters for treatment, have changed, said Dr. Scott Kennedy, chief medical officer.

To be eligible, a person must be diagnosed with Covid-19, have an onset of symptoms for seven days and either be a resident of a long-term care facility, immunocompromised or unvaccinated and considered at a high risk of developing more serious symptoms.

Kennedy said that the state may also revise its guidelines for treatment with monoclonal antibodies.

Burkhardt, CEO Darryl Wolfe and Dr. Scott Kennedy recognized the work of OMC staff.

“Many of our staff are fatigued and overwhelmed, and any (community) support can make a big difference,” Burkhardt said.

”Our health care workers make the choice every day to come to work and care for the most vulnerable in our community, those who need medical care and attention. The compassion shown by OMC staff to our community members makes a difference in the lives of Clallam County residents.”

Care-a-Van

COVID-19 vaccinations provided by the state Department of Health’s Care-a-Van will be available on Sunday in Port Townsend.

Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be available. Clinics are walk-up, with no appointment needed.

The team will be in two places on Sunday, at the American Legion Post 26 at 209 Monroe St. from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, 4907 Landes St.

OMC officials urged people to get flu shots this year.

Additionally, those eligible for booster shots of the vaccine will need to wait a while longer as the boosters go through the last rounds of regional and state approvals. Once approved the boosters will likely be available at area pharmacies and mass vaccination sites similar to the initial vaccine itself.

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