By Marcy Stamper
New COVID infections in Okanogan County remain low, with just 21 cases — one in Twisp — reported in the week ending Feb. 21. The two-week rate per 100,000 population is 94, down from a recent high of 440 in December.
Okanogan County and the north-central region are now in Phase 2, which allows indoor dining, movies and fitness centers, all at limited capacity. People can also have indoor social gatherings with up to five people from one additional household.
The state will reevaluate disease and hospitalization rates next week. If the region no longer meets enough of the thresholds, it would revert to Phase 1.
The Washington Department of Health (DOH) confirmed the state’s first infection with a COVID variant first identified in South Africa on Jan. 29. That strain has now been identified in 10 states, DOH said. DOH was unable to reach the patient, who is from King County, through contact tracing and therefore had no information about travel history.
The variant first identified in South Africa is not known to cause more severe disease and it’s not clear whether it spreads more readily. It can reduce the effectiveness of some vaccines, although vaccines still provide strong protection against severe illness and death, DOH said.
The state has also confirmed additional cases of a COVID variant first identified in the United Kingdom, bringing the total infections with that strain to 39. That variant appears to spread more readily, but available vaccines provide good protection against it, DOH said.
DOH stressed the need to continue to take precautions such as masking, social distancing and hand washing to prevent virus transmission of all the COVID variants.