Thurston County COVID-19 Update: Health Officer Letter to the Community

Submitted by Thurston County

Letter to the Community: March 20, 2021

Hello Thurston County! I hope you enjoyed the nice weather we have been having lately. The past few weeks have been eventful on the public health front.

We have been seeing increased COVID-19 activity in our county. On Tuesday, May 11, 2021, our case rates rose to 204.8 cases per 100,000 population over 14 days. Today, our transmission rate is 195.9 cases per 100,000 population over 14 days. We have seen increases in our test positivity rate as well and today, we are at 9% test positivity. Unfortunately, even though Washington State is seeing an overall decline in COVID-19 cases, that is not the case here in Thurston County.

When community transmission rates are high, this increases the chance that COVID-19 can spread in schools, workplaces, and anywhere people are gathered. As community transmission rates increase, there are more cases of COVID-19 in our schools. I want to encourage everyone in our community to get vaccinated, including eligible school-aged children and their families.

We continue to see significant spread of COVID-19 in young people. While throughout the duration of the pandemic the age groups with the greatest number of positive cases have been the 20-29 year old age group followed by the 30-39 year old age group, we have been seeing increasing numbers of youth under the age of 19 in recent weeks. This past week 27% of cases occurred in individuals 19 and younger. Spread within households and close contacts, including those working outside the home, congregate settings, and extracurricular activities, remain significant contributors to spread in our county. I am carefully monitoring our county data to see if we continue to see this increase, if we reach a plateau, or see a decline in case rates and test positivity rates.

We are also seeing SARS-CoV-2 variants in our county including B.1.1.7 (UK variant), B 1.351 (South African variant), B 1.427, and the B 1.429 (California variants). The B 1.1.7 variant is approximately 50% more transmissible than the previously circulating strains and some evidence suggests it may cause more severe illness. The B 1.427 variant and B 1.429 variant have increased transmission by about 20% compared to previously circulating variants, but there is no evidence to suggest they cause more severe illness. The B 1.351 variant may be less readily neutralized by antibodies, whether given as part of an antibody treatment or as a result of previous infection with another strain. The currently available vaccines do offer some protection from these variants.

A critical piece to slowing the spread of COVID-19 is vaccinations. We are excited the Pfizer vaccine was approved for individuals in the 12-15 year-old age group. The vaccine approval process is rigorous and involves an approval for an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the FDA where safety and efficacy data is reviewed followed by review from the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup comprised of experts from Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, and Colorado. There is a lot of work and analysis that goes into making sure vaccines are safe and effective before they become available.

In our community, we have been able to provide all three vaccines (Moderna, Pfizer, and J&J) to the public. We have had incredible support from our Thurston County community who have been volunteering their time and expertise at our vaccination clinics. We have been able to offer vaccines to people who are eligible with no appointment needed, although we still highly encourage you to pre- register since this will save you time. If you haven’t had your COVID-19 vaccine yet, please come to one

of our clinics and get vaccinated. Please visit the Washington State Department of Health’s Vaccine Locator to find an appointment in Thurston County or call 360-867-2610 for assistance making an appointment.

Some members of our community have received their first dose of a two-dose vaccine and have not yet gotten a chance to get their second dose. If more than 21 days have passed since receiving a Pfizer and 28 days after receiving a Moderna vaccine and you have not yet received a second dose, please find a clinic and get your second dose. People need to receive two doses of the same vaccine for a two-dose series. While it is advisable not to postpone a second dose beyond 42 days, I recommend getting a second dose even when that length of time has been exceeded in order to get the best protection possible. For folks who are worried they may have missed their opportunity for a second dose, it is not too late!

Another concern I hear about is the long-term impacts of vaccination. The CDC tracks this carefully. What we know about vaccine related impacts is that if they occur, they happen within six weeks of vaccination. Prior to emergency use authorization by the FDA, each of the available vaccines is studied for at least two months. We have been using the three approved vaccines for months and no long-term side effects have been detected. For more information on this, please visit this website.

Some have expressed concerns about fertility after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Currently, there is no evidence of problems trying to get pregnant associated with any vaccine, including the vaccines for COVID-19. And while there is limited data on people who are pregnant or breastfeeding receiving the vaccine, early data from the CDC and FDA did not find any safety concerns for vaccinated pregnant people or their babies. There are ongoing studies looking at the experience of pregnant people post vaccination. There is some data to suggest vaccinated people who are breastfeeding have antibodies in their breastmilk although more data will be needed to determine the amount of protection that breastfeeding children have.

The CDC announced, “Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.” On May 13, Governor Inslee affirmed Washington is adopting this however, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries and the Department of Health will be updating the masking guidance. Dr. Shah updated the Order of the Secretary of Health 20-03. For fully vaccinated people – meaning people who are two weeks removed from their second shot of Pfizer or Moderna or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Businesses retain the right to require customers to wear masks. Additionally, the guidance does not apply to heath care settings like hospitals, long-term care, or doctor’s offices, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, or schools. And the federal order requiring masks on public transportation remains in place.

That was a lot of information for one letter, but I hope it was helpful in answering some of your questions or concerns about community spread and vaccination. If you have any questions, please send them to tcphss.pio@co.thurston.wa.us

Wishing you the best of health,

Dimyana Abdelmalek, MD, MPH Health Officer, Thurston County

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