By Marcy Stamper
Three weeks ago, despite few new COVID infections in Washington, public health officials were nervous. They worried that, while cases had leveled off, that level — around 654 cases per day — was among the highest the state had experienced since the start of the pandemic.
Overall case counts were “around the same level we were seeing last October when the third wave of disease activity was ramping up. Plateauing or increasing at these high levels is concerning,” the state Department of Health (DOH) said in early March.
“I’m concerned about what this means for the future and a possibility of a fourth wave of activity, along with the increases we are seeing in variants of the virus,” Acting State Health Officer Scott Lindquist said.
Recent numbers appear to have borne out these fears. Okanogan County recorded 31 COVID cases in the week ending March 28, more than twice the infections reported the previous week and the highest weekly tally since the end of February. More than half of those cases were reported in just two days. About two-thirds of the 31 cases were in Omak. One was in Winthrop.
The new cases drove Okanogan County’s two-week case rate per 100,000 people to 115, compared with 63 last week. The county reported one more death from the disease, for a total of 35.
Okanogan County has recorded 49 COVID cases in the past 14 days. One of the requirements for the county to remain in Phase 3 is to have fewer than 100 cases in 14 days. Counties will be reevaluated on April 12.
There is some good news. Cases among people over age 60 are declining more rapidly as more in this age group become vaccinated. Hospital admission rates have declined among all age groups since early January.
Among the trends worrying public health officials are the growing number of COVID variants detected in the state — and across the country.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created categories for the new variants to indicate their potential seriousness: Variants of interest may be more contagious and less responsive to treatment. Variants of concern are more contagious and may result in more serious disease. And COVID vaccines may be less effective at preventing both variants of concern and variants of high consequence, DOH said.
The vast majority (about 94%) of COVID cases in Washington haven’t been genetically sequenced to identify the variant. The most prevalent variants detected in the state are one that originated in the United Kingdom and two that originated in California, all classified as variants of concern, according to DOH. None have been detected in Okanogan County, but there has been almost no genetic sequencing done in the county.