New COVID infections in Okanogan County have been dropping, with the infection rate per 100,000 population down by almost 50% since early January.
But Winthrop has been adding one or two cases almost every day, with nine new infections in the 10 days since Jan. 15, bringing the cumulative cases there to 38. In that time, the county recorded 61 new infections and one more death.
Okanogan County has now recorded 1,984 COVID cases since the start of the pandemic and lost 33 people to the disease. Cases continue to be widely distributed throughout the county. There was no information available from Okanogan County Public Health about the individual who died.
Okanogan County’s infection rate now stands at 225 per 100,000 population. In Washington’s new Roadmap to Recovery, the county is in the north-central region, along with Chelan, Douglas and Grant counties, and all four counties must meet certain goals before the region can move forward to the next phase of reopening. Infection rates in those counties are higher — 483 per 100,000 in Chelan, 421 in Douglas, and 674 in Grant.
Under the new plan, to go from Phase 1 to Phase 2, a region must meet four metrics: at least a 10% decrease in the two-week rate of COVID cases per 100,000 population, at least a 10% decrease in new COVID hospital admissions per 100,000 population, ICU occupancy under 90%, and COVID test positivity rate under 10%.
The north-central region saw a 1% decline in new cases as of Jan. 22. Although the drop is so small that the state Department of Health (DOH) considers it “flat,” the north-central region is one of only two in the state with a decrease in cases last week.
The north-central region has seen a 12% drop in hospitalizations, exceeding the goal. The ICU occupancy rate of 86% also meets the goal. But the region’s 14% positivity rate for new infections doesn’t meet the metrics.
New cases in the north region — Whatcom, Skagit, San Juan and Island counties — surged to 89% last week, and infections increased 44% in the Southwest and 23% in the Puget Sound. None of the regions in the state have been able to advance beyond Phase 1.
Two cases of a new variant of COVID-19 first identified in the United Kingdom were confirmed in Snohomish County on Jan. 23. The lab that detected the new variant screened 1,035 samples between Dec. 25 and Jan. 20 for mutations associated with the variant.
Data collected so far suggest a low prevalence of the variant in western Washington, but DOH said it’s likely that other cases exist.
The variant has emerged with an unusually large number of mutations since its discovery in the United Kingdom in September and it has now spread widely in England. It spreads more easily and quickly than other variants of COVID, but there is no conclusive evidence that it causes more severe illness or increased risk of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It had been detected in 24 states as of Jan. 25. CDC estimated that this strain will become the dominant strain in the U.S. within a few months.
Other mutations of COVID first detected in South Africa and Brazil have been spreading around the world. The new variants appear to be more contagious, but scientists don’t know yet if they’re more lethal. Researchers are also monitoring the effectiveness of existing vaccines in preventing infection from the new strains of COVID.