By Marcy Stamper
The trend of new COVID cases in Okanogan County in the past two weeks has been double the cases in early March, with 28 infections recorded in the week ending April 4.
Almost half of those cases were in Omak, which has had the majority of cases in recent weeks. There were no new cases in the Methow Valley and no new deaths from COVID reported.
The case rate in Okanogan County per 100,000 population is now 145, with 62 infections reported in the past 14 days.
Okanogan County Public Health noted the concerning rise in cases in a post on its Facebook page last week. New cases are primarily from people traveling and gathering more often than recommended, and not wearing masks when they’re around other people, Public Health said.
Their case investigations from last month showed that one person can quickly spread the virus to many other people, they said.
The current rate keeps Okanogan County on track to remain in Phase 3 of reopening. Guidelines from the state Department of Health (DOH) for counties with a population below 50,000 are fewer than 100 COVID cases over 14 days. New hospitalizations must have a seven-day average of three or below.
But neighboring counties are nervously eyeing a spike in infections. Both Chelan and Douglas counties have seen a worrying uptick in new cases. That infection rate could threaten their Phase 3 status, since Douglas County, with a population of about 43,500, had 111 cases in the past 14 days, as of April 6.
The metrics are different for Chelan County, which has 77,000 people. Larger counties can remain in Phase 3 as long as the 14-day average of new COVID cases is below 200 per 100,000 residents. Chelan had 208.5 cases per 100,000 population.
The next evaluation of whether counties have a low-enough COVID infection rate to remain in Phase 3 — which allows restaurants and entertainment venues to be open for indoor dining and activities at 50% capacity — is Monday (April 12).If any changes are indicated, they will take effect the following Friday. DOH is evaluating county data every three weeks. If statewide ICU capacity drops below 10%, all counties will revert to the previous phase.
The entire state moved to Phase 3 on March 22.
Acknowledging that people are impatient to resume more normal lives as more get vaccinated and the weather warms, state officials continued to emphasize precautions to avoid a potential fourth wave of COVID.
State Secretary of Health Umair Shah reminded people that they need to do everything possible — wear a mask, maintain social distance, gather outdoors in small groups — to keep infections low and businesses open.
“We are not out of the pandemic until we are out of the pandemic — meaning, do not let your guard down,” Shah said in a news conference on Thursday (April 1).
While many people have been vaccinated — and all people 16 and older will be eligible for vaccines starting April 15 — more than 300,000 people over 65 are still not vaccinated, Shah said. The state is seeing the highest disease activity among people age 20 to 39. With more infections overall, everyone is at greater risk of getting sick, he said.
Health officials are tracking variants of the coronavirus. At present, the most common variant is one that isn’t considered a concern — that is, it doesn’t appear to be more contagious. The next most prevalent variant is one first detected in California, called a variant of concern, according to acting state Health Officer Scott Lindquist.
While some researchers expect that the variant that originated in the United Kingdom, which has proven highly transmissible, could constitute more than half the infections in Washington by mid-April, it still remains relatively uncommon here, so it’s too early to say, Lindquist said.
Washington has a toll-free hotline where people can sign up for a vaccine without needing a computer or internet access. Call (800) 525-0127.