The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has assigned all of Washington State a COVID-19 Community Level rating of “low.”
But don’t be complacent, warned Heather Hill, infectious disease supervisor for the Benton Franklin Health District, speaking last week on the Kadlec on Call podcast.
“It’s more than just a cold,” she said. “We continue to see two to three deaths a week from this virus.”
In fact, four more Tri-Cities area residents have died of complications from COVID-19, according to the Benton Franklin Health District’s latest weekly update.
And long COVID — long-term health issues from infection that can last for weeks, months, or longer — continues to be a concern, said Dr. Jeff Duchin, public health officer for public health. – Seattle and King County, during a press briefing last week.
Those most likely to be hospitalized or die are older, unvaccinated and have underlying medical conditions, but long COVID is seen across a wider age range, he said.
An estimated 5% to 40% of people infected with the coronavirus develop long COVID, he said.
The wide variety of reported long-lasting COVID symptoms — including fatigue, a racing heart, brain fog, joint or muscle pain, and rashes, which could be from other health conditions — can make it difficult to diagnose COVID-19. a long COVID, according to the CDC.
People vaccinated against COVID-19 are less likely to have long COVID, the CDC says.
COVID vaccine reminder
The first shipments of the new, updated omicron targeting booster arrived in the Tri-Cities last week.
Some doses were sent to the health district for distribution to medical providers and others were shipped to pharmacies.
The new booster was released as the United States moves toward a system similar to flu vaccines, with a COVID-19 booster dose developed to be given annually that targets specific strains of the coronavirus expected this that year.
The flu shot can be given at the same time as the COVID-19 booster.
Visit the vaccine locator or call the COVID-19 information hotline at 1-800-525-0127 to check for locations that have doses of the new booster.
Before people can get it, they need to have their first COVID-19 shots — currently two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine.
The new booster made by Pfizer is available for people 12 and older and the new booster made by Moderna is for people 18 and older.
The booster should be administered no earlier than two months after the last dose of vaccine.
The original booster will no longer be given to people aged 12 and over, but will continue to be the booster for children ages 5-11.
Tri-Cities COVID Cases
Rates of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Tri-Cities area have peaked and are trending lower, according to the just-released Unified Situation Report for Benton Franklin Health District August COVID Activity and Benton and Franklin county emergency management.
The latest case rate for Benton and Franklin counties combined was about half of what was reported a month ago, up to 120 new cases per 100,000 population in a week.
Richland, Kennewick, Pasco and Prosser hospitals reported 32 people hospitalized in a week for COVID-19 treatment, the same as a month ago.
Hospitals are not overwhelmed, but report being stressed due to treating patients who need high levels of care and high levels of staff absenteeism and employee turnover, according to the status report.
Fewer people are visiting the free drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at Columbia Basin College of Argent Road in Pasco, but the site still tested 435 people during the week that included the last days of August and the early days of September, Hill said.
The rate of positive test results remained high at 37.5%.
One of the most accurate ways to determine the prevalence of the coronavirus in the Tri-Cities area is to check untreated municipal sewage for genetic material from the virus.
Coronavirus levels in sewage in Richland, Kennewick, Pasco and West Richland dropped significantly in August. Since then, a modest increase has been detected, but levels remain half as low as early summer.
CDC COVID Assessments
Although the CDC assigns every county in Washington State a “low” community level of COVID-19, neighboring states have many counties with significant levels of COVID.
Oregon still has four “high” and three “medium” ranked counties. Idaho has two counties rated “high” and 10 rated “medium”.
The CDC bases its community-level COVID-19 assessments not only on new case rates, but also on hospital beds used by COVID patients and hospital admissions for those with the disease.
When the community level is “high,” masks are recommended in indoor public spaces, and when “medium,” people at high risk of serious illness should wear masks. No recommendations are made on masks when community levels are “low”.
Tri-Cities COVID Deaths
The most recent four deaths from COVID-19 in the Tri-Cities included a Benton County man in his 40s.
The other three deaths were people at increased risk of death from the disease due to their age. They were Benton County men in the 70s and 80s and a Franklin County woman in the 90s.
Deaths of Tri-Cities area residents since the start of the pandemic now total 722, including 504 Benton County residents and 218 Franklin County residents.
In the Tri-Cities, local public health officials are verifying that deaths were due to COVID complications by verifying a positive test result and that coronavirus infection was listed as the primary cause of death on the certificate of death.
It may take several weeks for the health district to receive and reconcile death information due to notification processes from medical facilities and coroner’s offices and the process of issuing and publishing death certificates.
Tri-Cities Retirement Homes
In the Tri-Cities, retirement homes and other group homes for the elderly are of particular concern, according to the status report.
There were nine outbreaks in long-term care facilities last month and six facilities were on a watch list.
“Low recall rates among residents and staff continue to create additional risks for residents of these senior gathering places,” the report said.
Group homes are also experiencing rapid staff turnover at all levels, and incoming staff have limited infection control training and skills, he said.
In addition to outbreaks in long-term care facilities, August ended with one business outbreak and three other business outbreaks under investigation.
As school has just started for the year, public health officials are seeing cases of teachers and staff, and public health officials are waiting to see this spill over into classrooms, a said Hill.
This article has been corrected to say that people who are not vaccinated are more likely to get long COVID.
This story was originally published September 11, 2022 12:02 PM.
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