SOUTH BEND — Pacific County received good news in the battle against covid-19 on Monday, as no new cases of the virus were identified and reported over the weekend.

It’s the first time no new cases have been reported by the Pacific County Health and Human Services Department during a regular update since it began providing tri-weekly case updates — on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — late last fall. Of the 20 new cases that were reported by the department over the past week, 18 were reported on Jan. 6 and two on Jan. 8.

As of the Jan. 11 update, Pacific County’s total pandemic count sits at 616 cases, 22 of which are currently active “throughout all parts of the county,” according to the department. The county’s case rate per 100,000 people over a two-week period dropped to 120, down from 180 a week ago and the lowest it’s been since early November. Three Pacific County residents have been hospitalized in the new year, bringing total hospitalizations in the county to 20.

According to weekly zip code data disclosed by the department on Jan. 6, a majority of new cases over the past several weeks continue to be of people who list a north county address as their permanent residence. Nine new cases were reported of people listing a Naselle address, bringing their total case count to 28. Long Beach and Ocean Park were each attributed four new cases, bringing their totals to 53 and 42 cases, respectively. Raymond and South Bend were attributed 27 combined cases, bringing their respective totals to 278 and 146 cases.

Wahkiakum County’s total case count increased by seven over the past week, bringing its total to 62 cases. Clatsop County reported 31 new cases over the same period, increasing its total to 637 cases. Statewide confirmed covid-19 cases totaled 265,312 on Dec. 21, with 15,978 patients hospitalized and 3,699 fatalities reported since the pandemic began.

New vaccine guidance prioritizes older population

The Washington State Department of Health rolled out new vaccine prioritization guidance last week that is a notable departure from federal recommendations announced last month.

Following the vaccination of the current priority group — consisting of high-risk health workers and first responders, staff and residents of long-term care facilities and other at-risk workers in health care settings — the next group of Washingtonians set to receive the vaccine are people in Tier B1: all those 70 or older, and those 50 or older who live in a multi-generational household.

Previously expected guidance based on federal recommendations that was provided to states pegged the next priority group to consist of all those 75 or older, as well as high-risk critical workers, such as teachers, food workers, emergency responders and public transit and postal service workers. Now, according to the new state Department of Health guidance, some high-risk critical workers may not be slated to receive the vaccine until spring.

According to an estimated timeline released by the state, vaccinations for the next priority group, Tier B1, are expected to begin sometime in January. Next month, vaccinations are expected to begin for Tier B2. That group consists of high-risk critical workers age 50 or older in certain congregate settings, with the state specifically identifying teachers and school staff, emergency responders, food processing workers, agricultural workers, public transit employees, childcare staff, and corrections staff in prisons, jails or detention centers.

Tier B3 consists of all people 16 or older with two or more comorbidities or underlying health conditions, with vaccinations estimated to begin in March. The state Department of Health identifies comorbid or underlying conditions as: cancer; heart conditions such as heart failure, coronary artery disease or cardiomyopathies; obesity or severe obesity; smoking; Type 2 diabetes; chronic kidney disease; immunocompromised from solid organ transplant; sickle cell disease; and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Tier B4 consists of high-risk critical workers under 50 in the previously identified congregate settings, as well as residents, staff and volunteers of people in congregate living settings, such as correctional facilities, group homes for people with disabilities, and people experiencing homelessness that live in congregate settings. That group is estimated to begin vaccinations in April.

Amy Huntley, superintendent of the Ocean Beach School District, lamented the new guidance during an OBSD board meeting on Jan. 8, noting that many teachers and school staff probably won’t be eligible to receive the vaccine until April — if the state’s timeline proves to be accurate.

“This was a big blow today,” Huntley said.

Tiers beyond B4 have yet to be announced by the state Department of Health, and people in those groups are not expected to be eligible to be vaccinated until May at the earliest.

Katie Lindstrom, Pacific County health director, said the county is only scheduling appointments for those in the current priority group. Those who qualify for Tier B1 are asked not to call to try and schedule an appointment to be vaccinated at this time, Lindstrom said, and added that the county will provide future updates when the time comes.

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