by Sally James
A late summer surge of the COVID-19 delta variant has schools scrambling to adjust to in-person learning, parents worried about the safety of unvaccinated kids, and sports fans on edge.
Local professional sports teams, including Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Sounders FC, and Seattle Kraken all announced that they would require proof of vaccination from fans who want to attend games. Following those announcements Tuesday, Sept. 7, the Washington Huskies, Washington State Cougars, and Seattle Mariners also announced similar rules to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The rules don’t apply to fans under 12 years old, who cannot yet be vaccinated. In a story this week, the Emerald outlined the updated guidelines for student athletes.
For participants in outdoor sports and fans of all ages, the delta variant continues to spread throughout the community, requiring changes to fall plans and public health guidance.
Off the field, the Washington Hospital Association (WSHA) reported an almost 7% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide over the previous week. Some of that press conference is in this video from television station KIRO-7. WSHA leader Cassie Sauer explained that overcrowded hospitals anywhere are a problem for all hospitals, because patients are sometimes shifted to other facilities.
King County Executive Dow Constantine said the County is trying to create some vaccine verification standards that could become effective in October. These would help businesses and others quickly verify a person’s vaccine status.
In this week’s Q&A, we hope to help you make sense out of the latest COVID-19 health and safety headlines with links to credible sources.
Send your questions to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: If the Seahawks, Sounders, and Kraken professional sports teams are requiring proof of vaccination for people to attend those games, does that mean I don’t need a mask inside and outdoors at those venues?
A: No, masks are still required wherever a crowd of 500 or more people are meeting (even outdoors) and 6 feet of distance cannot be maintained. Each of the teams gives further details on their websites (Seahawks, Sounders, Kraken). Even people who are vaccinated can catch COVID-19, although they rarely become seriously ill or require hospitalization. You should also realize that people who are under 12 years old are still allowed to attend large sporting events even though they have not been vaccinated.
Q: Is there routine testing of Seattle Public School (SPS) students?
A: No, not every student is being tested, according to the SPS website. A statement there says that students with symptoms or who have a known exposure to someone with COVID-19 will be tested. In future, the statement says “we will explore a more robust 2021–22 screening program including for students who aren’t vaccinated or are at a higher risk.”
Q: I’ve heard that ventilation — either through opening windows or running an air filter system — can decrease the risk to people indoors from the COVID-19 virus. How much ventilation is in public-school classes in Seattle?
A: The district does not give specific information for each building, or classroom. But they are promising that they have four to six air exchanges per hour in most spaces. Certain rooms, like music rooms, will have 10 air exchanges per hour. The details are on SPS’s “Resources: 2021–22 Health and Safety Protocols” webpage under “Classrooms and School Buildings.” In general, the more air is exchanged inside a space, the more that any virus or contamination is spread out and the risk reduced. A recent story in The New York Times suggests good ventilation and air exchange reduces environmental viral load.
Q: We have a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old at our house. If the younger one has a runny nose, I can’t send her to her daycare. Does that mean her older sister has to stay home from school?
A: According to a resource from Public Health — Seattle & King County (PHSKC), the sibling does not have to stay home because of her sister’s symptoms. But you should monitor everyone in the house closely. We are getting many questions about when different students in a household can attend school. Your own school may have different rules than SPS. PHSKC has provided a helpful infographic that includes a lot of guidance on when people can return to school or work.
Q: When can I get a booster shot as an adult who is not a health care worker or first responder?
A: Right now, that is unclear. Initially, widespread boosters were going to be available on Sept. 20, but according to a story from The Associated Press, that is now unlikely. People who have reduced immunity are eligible to get boosters now, but the rest of the population has to wait for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to decide on the proper dose for each booster shot. An FDA meeting to discuss the Pfizer booster is scheduled for Sept. 17.
Q: Are the number of cases in King County going up or down?
A: That question doesn’t have an easy answer because of the way cases get reported. There is a lag time between the actual case and the reported numbers. As of Aug. 30 data, in a PHSKC dashboard, the rate of new cases is slightly down. But it remains high, with 595 cases per day.
Q: I have relatives flying to visit me from Atlanta. They are vaccinated, but they will be on the plane and in the airport during their travels. Is it safe for them to be around me? I’m vaccinated, but also have some health problems.
A: Anyone who is traveling on a plane among people who may not be vaccinated could present some risk to your household. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has some guidelines to follow. And you can share these with your relatives so they can further lower their risk. If you all wear masks or visit outdoors during their stay, that would also reduce the risk. The CDC recommends that travelers can be tested before and after flying. This may help families make decisions about how safe it is to gather.
Q: How can I understand all the kinds of tests sold at drugstores? I’m very confused about the rapid tests that give results in 15 minutes.
A: Slate has a useful story about all the over-the-counter tests. It can be confusing to learn about the different types of tests and their strengths and weaknesses. But before you invest in any test, it is best to understand the details. One important thing to know is that at-home tests are more accurate if a person already has symptoms and less accurate if you are testing someone without any symptoms.
There are three types of COVID-19 tests. Here is a link on Washington State Department of Health’s website for an explanation of PCR, antigen, and antibody tests and when you need each one. When in doubt, ask your doctor or a pharmacist.
Sally James is a science writer in Seattle. You can read more of her work at www.seattlesciencewriter.com. She’s written about biotech, cancer research, and health literacy and volunteered as president of the nonprofit Northwest Science Writers Association.
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