SOUTH BEND — The U.S. encountered its most grim phase of the covid-19 pandemic last week, as case counts soared and the country surpassed 10 million confirmed cases of the virus. The same can be said of Pacific County, as 37 new cases were announced over the past week and the first known workplace outbreak in the county since the pandemic began eight months ago.

At least 12 workers at an unidentified seafood processing plant in the county have tested positive for covid-19. These cases of workplace-related exposure to the virus were announced on Nov. 6, when the Pacific County Health and Human Services Department announced 28 newly confirmed cases, by far the most new cases the department has announced in just a single day.

In response to the seafood-worker outbreak, the county health department held two testing events in both north and south county last week for the plant’s employees, according to Stephanie Michael, health manager for the Pacific County Health and Human Services Department. Michael said the department is currently working through the company’s safety plan to ensure it is in compliance with required safety practices.

New cases piling up

Along with the workers of the processing plant who tested positive for covid-19, an additional 28 newly confirmed cases were also announced by the county health department over the past week.

Four of those cases were announced in the morning on Nov. 10, just before the Observer’s print deadline. An additional eight cases have been deemed as probable and are awaiting further confirmation.

The new cases vary by a slew of metrics, including age, gender and how the individuals were believed to be exposed to the virus. Of the 33 new cases:

• Ten of the individuals are age 20 or younger; one is between 20 and 30; eight are between 30 and 40; seven are between 40 and 50; four are between 50 and 60; four are between 60 and 70; and three are between 70 and 80.

• Nineteen of the individuals are females and 18 are males.

• Thirteen of the cases are linked to workplace exposure; 11 are linked to a positive household case, including some cases that are connected to the workplace exposure cases; five are linked to out-of-county travel; two are linked to holiday parties; two are linked to social interactions; two are undetermined at this time; one is linked to a medical screening; and one is linked to an out-of-county visitor.

So far, according to Michael, none of the individuals that comprise the new batch of cases have required hospitalization as of Nov. 9. Pacific County has had eight hospitalizations and three deaths attributed to the coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic.

With 42 cases currently active and being monitored by public health nurses, Pacific County’s total count has risen to 159 cases. Some 72 cases, 45% of the overall total, have come since Oct. 1 alone.

On Nov. 6, Wahkiakum County announced its 12th covid-19 case. The individual is in self-quarantine and is symptomatic. Clatsop County has recorded 293 cases since March, of whom 243 have recovered, one was hospitalized and the others are convalescing at home.

As of Nov. 9, Washington state had 118,570 confirmed covid-19 infections, including 2,460 deaths and 9,031 hospitalizations.

Vaccine trial results promising

On Nov. 9, the pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced that a coronavirus vaccine it has developed with German biotechnology firm BioNTech was deemed to be more than 90% effective at protecting people from the virus, according to an interim analysis of the vaccine’s ongoing trial.

The positive news means that the companies could apply for an emergency application from the Food and Drug Administration after the third week of November, following the conclusion of the 44,000-person trial that could come as soon as later this month. The FDA review of the trial’s data is expected to take a few weeks, and if all goes well the vaccine could have initial doses ready by next month, perhaps enough for 25 million people.

These initial doses will likely be available only to select groups, such as health care workers and people at high-risk of developing severe complications if they contract the virus. The companies hope that they can produce enough doses for up to 650 million people in 2021. Several other companies are also in late-stage trials with their coronavirus vaccines.

In Washington, the state Department of Health has been working on a covid-19 vaccine distribution plan since late summer. Earlier this month, the state opened enrollment for its Covid-19 Vaccination Program, which coordinates health care providers’ enrollment into the federal vaccination program.

An interim version of the state’s vaccine distribution plan was released in October, following a request from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for states to release preliminary plans. The state’s plan emphasized its priority of ensuring equitable distribution of the vaccine when it becomes available, and identifies health care workers, high-risk first responders, long-term care facility residents and people at risk of developing a severe case of the virus as those who could be the first in the state to receive a vaccine.

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