OLYMPIA — Washington’s COVID-19 trends continue in the “right direction,” state health leaders said Wednesday, though concerns remain over a potential holiday season surge.
“This is a really important time for all of us,” state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah said during a news briefing. “... Where we are in November 2021 is actually very similar to where we were in November of 2020.”
He continued, “If you remember at that time, we had started to see an increase [in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations], and that increase then led to our third and very sustained wave over the holidays. That is the caution that all of us have.”
Last fall, the state had already seen two waves of the coronavirus — the first in late February and another during the summer — and had started to reach lower levels of infections, hospitalizations and deaths when signs of another surge began to emerge. At the beginning of October 2020, the state’s seven-day infection rate was about 54.2 cases per 100,000 people. By the end of November, it had skyrocketed to 284.9 cases per 100,000, as colder weather drove people back indoors and gatherings picked up during the holidays.
Hospitalizations and deaths also rose to the highest levels the state had seen at that point.
State health leaders have fears the same could happen this year.
“We are concerned that if we do not continue to get people vaccinated and people to take the appropriate precautions that very quickly this trend that’s going in the right direction ... leads to an uptick into a sixth wave,” Shah said Wednesday.
As of early November, epidemiologists estimated Washington’s infection rate was about 157.7 per 100,000 and the hospitalization rate about 8.9 per 100,000 — reflecting a continued decline since the state’s most recent summer surge peaked in September.
Deaths have also steadily decreased, but Shah said they’re still higher than he’d like to see. As of mid-October, about 1.2% of those with a recorded infection died of the disease in Washington.
This year, however, widespread availability of vaccinations will hopefully make a difference, Shah added.
This week, the state announced 80% of eligible Washingtonians have received at least their first vaccine dose, including more than 60,000 kids between ages 5 and 11. More than 820,000 people have also gotten either a booster shot or a third dose.
“The bottom line is if you’re ill, don’t guess — take a test,” said Lacy Fehrenbach, the state’s deputy secretary for COVID-19 response, who recommended using rapid or PCR tests before traveling to see family or friends this winter. “We want your event to be uneventful.”