EAST WENATCHEE — The COVID-19 infection rate in Chelan and Douglas counties is dropping, even as new, more infectious variations of the virus arrive.

Chelan and Douglas counties did not see a large spike of cases after the Christmas and New Year holidays, Chelan-Douglas Health Officer Dr. Malcolm Butler said. Butler was speaking during a Chelan-Douglas Board of Health meeting on Monday. In fact, the local case rate contrasted with a statewide spike in numbers during the same time period.

It shows that local residents were more responsive to pleas from health care providers to stay home than elsewhere in the state, he said.

“I want to make a loud and clear and big thank you to everyone in our communities for being so careful over the holidays,” Butler said.

The COVID-19 rate in Chelan and Douglas counties combined is hovering at around 460 people per 100,000 over a two-week period, said Joyous Van Meter, regional epidemiologist. It is down from around 600 where it has been sitting for the last few weeks.

One interesting fact is this year’s flu has been eradicated, he said. Hospitals are seeing next to no visits for this year’s seasonal flu, when they would normally be seeing dozens of people. It appears efforts to wear masks, wash hands and social distance have worked on the flu.

“But COVID continues to push right on through,” Butler said. “So another reminder how very different COVID is than influenza and how dangerous COVID is or at least how cunning COVID is than influenza.”

It does not mean the flu won’t be back next year.

Despite falling numbers now is not the time for people to grow lax about safety measures, because new, more infectious variations of COVID-19 are arriving, he said. Snohomish County has already reported two cases of COVID-19 variations.

“The B117 variant causes more disease, but not worse disease,” Butler said. “So more people will become infected and because more people become infected, more people will end up in the hospital. But it’s not because any one person has a more severe disease.”

One piece of good news is that school districts that have reopened don’t report any outbreaks so far in 2021, he said. Butler is concerned, though that teachers below the age of 50 are so low on the vaccination list. Oregon and Idaho are vaccinating teachers sooner than in Washington.

Tony Buhr: 664-7123

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