by Sally James
State health officials sounded a familiar, late-stage refrain on COVID-19 Wednesday: Washington is seeing diminishing cases, but the pandemic is not over.
There has been an uptick in cases in King County, according to the Seattle & King County Public Health dashboard, which showed cases were up 42% — from about 175 to 250 daily cases — in the past week.
“The county’s public health teams are paying ‘serious attention’ to the slight increase, but residents shouldn’t panic at this point,” County Health Officer Dr. Jeffrey Duchin told The Seattle Times.
The subvariant known as BA.2, which is related to omicron, now makes up the majority of COVID-19 cases in the state. In other parts of the globe, especially Europe and Asia, BA.2 is leading to new surges. But that is not happening yet in Washington, according to Dr. Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, the chief science officer of the Washington State Department of Health (DOH). And he hopes it won’t happen.
These details came during the health department’s twice-monthly online media event, which Dr. Umair Shah, director of the Washington State DOH, said will be ending.
Overall, the state’s case numbers and hospitalization numbers continue to fall, matching last summer’s low points.
“The pandemic is not over. You can still get infected and it can still be dangerous, but we have tools,” Shah said, after a question about the most important message right now for the public.
Among the newest of those tools: On March 29, federal officials approved a second booster for people over 50, or for people over 12 with weak immune systems. A Moderna or Pfizer booster is available from any of the retail pharmacies or vaccine clinics that are already offering other shots. People can also use the State’s vaccine locator website.
The purpose of the second booster is to improve the strength of immunity for people who had their last booster more than four months ago. Research shows that the protection from severe disease wanes as the time after a booster gets longer.
Life for the uninsured has become more complicated in recent weeks. Federal reimbursement for the cost of COVID-19 testing and treatment has been stopped because of no new budget dollars from Congress. However, some State programs are using money allocated from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and those programs are still funded for some months, according to State officials.
When asked what uninsured people should do, one official offered this list:
- Get insured by signing up at Washington Healthplanfinder.
- Ask for clinics that are FEMA funded and won’t charge you.
- Know that rural clinics may have free care to offer.
There are two areas of prevention and treatment that the State wants people to seek out. There is a prevention known as Evusheld, which is given as an injection to people with moderate or severe immune weakness. This therapy was approved in December, but it used to be in short supply. As of now, thousands of doses are sitting on shelves, Kwan-Gett said. He encouraged people to ask their doctors about it, because it could save them from a serious case of COVID-19. A story in The New York Times describes this in more detail.
He also wants people to ask their doctors about treatments that are given quickly after a patient is diagnosed with COVID-19. These dampen the seriousness of the symptoms, but patients need to talk to doctors in advance about procedures for getting them quickly enough. Some need to be given within four days of a patient’s diagnosis. Some of these treatments are monoclonal antibodies, and others are antivirals. All of them require a prescription.
Officials also reminded people that they should make choices about mask wearing to protect both themselves and also people they visit. If someone you visit is over 65, for example, they are more vulnerable, so you might mask around them.
In general, seeing others outdoors or indoors with better ventilation is safer than seeing others indoors with poor ventilation. Masked is safer than unmasked, and vaccinated is safer than unvaccinated.
Michele Roberts, who is in charge of vaccination for the State, said “it could save your life” to stay up to date on all the vaccinations and boosters.
Not all people have the same access to boosters and vaccines. State and King County health officials agree that the rates of vaccination among Black and Hispanic residents are much lower than for other groups, for example.
In a blog published March 30, the Seattle & King County Public Health department wrote:
“Systemic racism, redlining, and underinvestment has resulted in a scarcity of medical providers in south King County compared to Seattle and north King County. Because of these existing infrastructural disparities, vaccine doses are more widely distributed to places like Seattle, where there is the highest concentration of medical providers but where the need is not as great.”
The story includes ways that outreach to existing community groups in South Seattle and other places is helping to overcome some of these barriers.
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.
📸 Featured Image: Tamara Bass, Neighborcare Health. (Photo: Susan Fried)
Before you move on to the next story … Please consider that the article you just read was made possible by the generous financial support of donors and sponsors. The Emerald is a BIPOC-led nonprofit news outlet with the mission of offering a wider lens of our region’s most diverse, least affluent, and woefully under-reported communities. Please consider making a one-time gift or, better yet, joining our Rainmaker Family by becoming a monthly donor. Your support will help provide fair pay for our journalists and enable them to continue writing the important stories that offer relevant news, information, and analysis. Support the Emerald!