OLYMPIA — Pacific County and most other counties will remain in Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan for at least two more weeks, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday.

Inslee said at his May 4 news conference that he is pausing counties at their current phase, to be reevaluated in two weeks, meaning that Pacific and 35 other counties will remain in Phase 3, while three counties — including Cowlitz — will remain in Phase 2.

The reopening decision was put off for two more weeks, Inslee said, because of the evolving situation the state finds itself in as it tries to beat back a fourth wave of covid-19. Cases had been rising in recent weeks, but state Department of Health data showed that new cases and hospitalizations appeared to be leveling off and possibly declining.

And while the statewide case rate had been on the rise, Inslee noted that the death rate remained relatively low compared to prior covid waves. He urged people to continue to get vaccinated, noting that 54% of eligible Washingtonians have received at least one vaccine dose so far.

“While we’re pausing today, it doesn’t mean we have a clear path out of these phases either. But we do have a choice in these next couple weeks to get vaccinated and take more control over the course of this pandemic,” Inslee said.

Locally, the decision two weeks from now will be key in determining how Ilwaco and Naselle high schools will move forward with planning their graduation ceremonies. Naselle is hoping to hold an indoor, in-person ceremony with as much seating as allowed under the reopening guidance, while Ilwaco is planning to hold an outdoor, in-person ceremony on its football field.

Cases begin to drop off

After mid-April saw a steep rise in cases that Pacific County hadn’t seen since last year, the last couple of weeks have seen the county’s case rate dropping to a more manageable level.

As of May 3, the Pacific County Health and Human Services Department reported 28 new cases over the previous 14 days, down from 74 cases a week ago. The case rate per 100,000 people over the last 14 days is 129, down sharply from 342 a week ago.

The rise in cases last month were fueled by a social gathering at a north county bar that turned into a super-spreader event, although local health officials cautioned that active cases are present throughout the county.

Weekly zip code data as of April 28 shows that about 75% of new cases since mid-April consist of people living at a Raymond or South Bend address, although it does not necessarily mean that is where they contracted the virus. In all, more than 67% of all Pacific County cases since the pandemic began can be attributed to people living at a Raymond or South Bend address.

Statewide confirmed covid-19 cases totaled 377,019 on May 3, with 22,472 patients hospitalized and 5,507 fatalities reported since the pandemic began. Both the case and hospitalization rate are at their highest points in the state since January, and are continuing to rise.

Concerns arise over skipped second doses

Health officials throughout the country are facing concern over the growing number of people who are skipping second-dose vaccine appointments.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 8% of people who got their first shot from either Pfizer or Moderna are skipping out on their second doses. It’s more than double the rate of people missing out on their second-dose appointments in the earlier stages of the country’s vaccination efforts.

The result is millions of Americans not being fully vaccinated, triggering a weaker response by the immune system and potentially leaving them more exposed to covid-19 variants that are now circulating throughout the country — including Pacific County.

Locally, county health director Katie Lindstrom said missed second doses have not been a “huge” problem, which she partially credits because of how Pacific County vaccine providers schedule second-dose appointments compared to other counties.

“In many other counties, people schedule their first-dose appointment and then are told to follow up and find their own second-dose appointment three or four weeks later, depending on the vaccine,” Lindstrom said in an email. “For the first three months, we manually scheduled both the first and second dose appointments at the time of the initial scheduling call.”

The county has recently shifted to people scheduling their appointments online, rather than by phone. While the new system doesn’t require people to schedule both appointments at the same time, the county does send out follow-up emails immediately after receiving their first dose to schedule their second-dose appointment, or even schedules their second-dose appointment at the first-dose clinic.

“These strategies have helped us achieve a very high second-dose follow-through rate. Now, with the younger population, and in some cases with people from out of the county coming to our county for their first dose, we may start to see less follow-through. But as of right now, we’re still doing pretty well with vaccine series completion,” Lindstrom said.

With Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine ready for use again, the county is putting the call out for those who are homebound and would like to be vaccinated. Those who are homebound, or know somebody who is homebound, and are interested in being vaccinated at their home by local health staff are asked to fill out an online survey at https://tinyurl.com/9yrk9pzr.

This week, the Ocean Beach Hospital is hosting a first-dose vaccine clinic on May 6 at Ilwaco Timberland Library. Afternoon appointments were still available as of press time, and can be made at https://tinyurl.com/5bjy4742.

For a list of all upcoming vaccine clinics in Pacific County, visit http://www.tinyurl.com/paccoclinics.

As of May 1, 18,803 vaccine doses had been given in Pacific County, up from 17,644 doses a week earlier. About 33.7% of county residents have been fully vaccinated so far, up from 29.6% a week ago. Statewide, 5.59 million doses have been given, up from 5.16 million doses a week ago.

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