WA reopens, but health officials warn of COVID variants
Starting just after midnight, Pierce County and Washington State made the first major effort to return to a world without the COVID-19 pandemic dominating every move.
While most people are ready to pop the champagne and toss their masks in the air as a pandemic graduation ceremony, officials remain cautious of the state’s current lineup of COVID variants. Statements released on Tuesday stressed that residents should always mask themselves if they are not fully vaccinated.
As Pierce County braces for the state to reopen on June 30 and the lifting of most pandemic restrictions, state and local health officials are keen to, on the one hand, promote change final mindset, while maintaining that the COVID risks remain.
Weekly briefings from the state’s health ministry, for example, which have been going on since the start of the pandemic, are expected to wane.
“We will start to take some of the regularity with which we have had these press briefings,” Health Secretary Umair Shah told reporters last week. “We want people to recognize that we are entering a different phase of this pandemic. “
Representatives from the Tacoma-Pierce County Department of Health have announced during recent Board of Health sessions that they will eventually scale back the response, but for now, COVID work continues.
“The pandemic is not over when we reopen, and there is certainly still a public health response aspect to all of our COVID management work for a while,” said Stephanie Dunkel, deputy director of the TPCHD division. for communicable diseases in a telephone interview Tuesday with The Tribune news.
Pierce County, still trying to achieve a 70% vaccination rate, is also home to several variants of COVID, according to the state’s latest variant report, which only tracks a percentage of cases.
“We’re currently doing assessments to see what next week will look like, six months to a year. And one of the things that takes that into account is that we know we’re generally seeing some level of resurgence, ”with reopenings, Dunkel noted. “With our current level of unvaccinated individuals, we are preparing for a possible increase in disease when we reopen.”
Wednesday’s “Welcome Back Tacoma” celebration, set for 11 am at Wright Park, including Mayor Victoria Woodards and Governor Jay Inslee, marks the end of most COVID restrictions on businesses and public spaces.
The event, complemented by food trucks and entertainment, will offer COVID-19 vaccinations. It’s one of three reopening events in the state Inslee will attend on Wednesday and Thursday, with celebrations also in Seattle and Spokane.
BE CAREFUL OF THE VARIANTS
With most indoor and outdoor gatherings reverting to a normal and lower daily COVID case count and the march continuing towards higher vaccination rates, what is left to watch out for?
Primarily, COVID variants, of which there are more than 10 on Washington’s radar.
“Washington is among the states that do the most genetic sequencing of COVID-19 samples,” Ashley Gross, public information officer at the state’s DOH, told the News Tribune via email in response to questions.
Over the weekend, the World Health Organization warned that fully vaccinated people should remain masked in the crowd due to the risk of variants, especially the Delta variant, officially known as B.1.617. 2. Los Angeles County revised its mask guidelines in light of the spread of the delta in its own community.
“The Delta variant is a variant that we are watching closely, but so far it represents a small number of isolates in the state. We’re not changing our mask requirements for the sake of this variant at this time, ”Gross wrote.
Pierce is one of eight counties listed with the Delta variant among surveillance sampling (meaning he could be elsewhere as well), with five cases listed in the state’s most recent report on June 23.
The variant with the highest number of cases captured in the state surveillance sample of county data remains the Alpha, a UK variant (B.1.1.7) followed by Epsilon (B.1.429), a Californian variant.
The third in Pierce County is the Brazilian Gamma (P.1) variant, which remains the variant that DOH officials say could potentially be of more concern to that state than the Delta version.
“We know that the people who get vaccinated, the vaccines always show protection against the variants, ”said Dunkel,“ and we continue to learn what that looks like over time as well. ”
In addition to its rapid spread, “The other very big concern with this Gamma variant is that it has the highest hospitalization rate of all of our variants,” said Dr. Scott Lindquist, Acting Health Officer. State, during a briefing last week.
“While everyone is worried that Delta is going to have more deaths and hospitalizations, we just don’t see that here in Washington,” he told reporters last week. “We are seeing proportionately more breakthrough cases and hospitalizations, with the Gamma variant, which really puts us in perspective.”
Dr Michael Anderson, Chief Medical Officer of Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, recently told KING-5 TV that it is rare to find hospitalized COVID patients who have been fully vaccinated.
“We know they have had the opportunity to get the vaccine and have chosen not to be vaccinated for one reason or another,” he said.
MASKS STILL IN OUR WORLD
Health Secretary Shah changed his masking order Tuesday to note that those who are not fully vaccinated should continue to wear masks in indoor public places, and that all people, even those who are fully vaccinated, should still wear masks in some places, including schools, health facilities and public transport, according to Brut.
“Local authorities and businesses may adopt more protective masking requirements, which is why our message is to ‘follow the rules of the room you are in’,” she noted.
“Wearing masks outdoors is no longer mandatory, but people who are not fully vaccinated are encouraged to wear a mask in crowded outdoor venues, such as sporting events, fairs, parades and concerts. . Masks are no longer mandatory for outdoor sports or competitions, ”she wrote.
On Tuesday, Tacoma’s Grand Cinema noted that it would become optional for masks starting Wednesday.
“However, we will continue with remote headquarters, which means there will be an empty seat between customers and the people around them,” the theater noted in its blog.
THE DEMAND FOR VACCINES IS SOFTENING
In May, the county was grappling with its fourth wave, reaching hundreds of cases for the 14-day average, according to the state tracker.
State figures now place our 14-day case average (confirmed and probable) at 74.2 as of June 27, down from 300+ days in May.
The Fourth Wave for Pierce County has been a roller coaster for much of this month, even bringing the county and a handful of others back to Phase 2 of the Reopening Roadmap plan for the recovery of the State.
The county began to see a noticeable drop in the number of new cases in June, from 366 cases reported at the peak of the fourth wave in May to 31 on June 29.
The vaccines appeared to have caught up with community spread at this point.
Pierce County has now administered more than 800,000 doses of the vaccine, with 42.44% of the population fully vaccinated as of June 23 and nearly 50% having started vaccination.
The state DOH, in its June 26 data, placed Pierce County at 48.5% among those aged 12 and over fully vaccinated and at 54.6% who had started vaccination.
“We continued to see demand weaken,” Dunkel told the News Tribune. “We have seen a decrease in our number of daily vaccines. For a while we were around 5,000 to 5,500 a day. We are now about 2,800 to 3,000 a day.
Among those under 18, TPCHD data shows that 10.2% of this age group are vaccinated in the county, compared to 40.9% for those aged 18-29; 52.2% of 30-49 year olds, 60.4% of 50-64 year olds; and 72.2 percent for those 65 and over.
By race / ethnicity, natives of America / Alaska show 56.9% vaccinated, 48.9% Asians, 33% Blacks, 28.3% Hispanics, 41.9% Hawaiians and ‘Pacific Islanders and 43.3% White.
The gap between vaccinated men and women remains notable, with 47.9% of women and 41.5% of men receiving a dose.
As of Tuesday, the TPCHD had recorded 51,029 cases and 600 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Going forward, Dunkel ticked off everything that puzzled staff now: continuation of vaccinations, possible distribution of booster vaccines, expanded access and distribution for young children if the vaccine is approved, reopening of schools, more mobile vaccine distribution. .
“We’re still reacting quite strongly to this,” Dunkel said on Tuesday. “There’s still a lot going on, there are a lot of things we’re going to be looking at in the near future that we’re going to have to respond to COVID-style, so we’re still going strong for a little while.”