People can now order two sets of at-home COVID tests per month through the state’s portal at www.sayyescovidhometest.org. Each box contains five tests.
Some people are celebrating the end of the state’s mask mandate, but others are nervous. The requirement for masks in indoor settings, including businesses, gyms and schools, expires on Saturday (March 12).
Methow Valley schools are gearing up for the transition, Methow Valley School District Supt. Tom Venable said.
“As you might imagine, this change has signified a sense of relief from what some have referred to as an overreach on the part of our government,” Venable said in a letter to staff last week. “For others, the decision to transition away from the current masking requirement appears to be premature and inconsistent with the science and data, particularly in places that continue to experience elevated levels of cases and hospitalization, resulting in high levels of anxiety. Needless to say, the range of perspectives is broad.”
As they facilitate the transition, which takes effect on Monday (March 14), the school district is committed to adhering to state Department of Health (DOH) guidelines. They are also honoring the diverse opinion on this matter and will support students, staff and visitors who choose to wear a mask, as well as those who don’t, Venable said.
“This will require each of us to set aside assumptions about an individual’s personal beliefs or health status and respect individual decisions,” he said.
Even without masks, the schools have many protocols to protect people, including good ventilation and distancing, school nurse Adriana Vanbianchi said in a podcast about COVID last month.
Vanbianchi and Annalisa Tornberg, the district’s COVID liaison, emphasized the importance of vaccination, particularly as the mask requirement ends.
As in the community at large, the schools saw more COVID cases during the Omicron surge, but many cases were mild. Still, some students and staff — particularly those who are unvaccinated — have been quite ill, Vanbianchi said.
State health officials emphasized the importance of protecting people’s right to continue to wear a mask, an crucial safety measure for those who are immunocompromised or who live with someone at higher risk, state Secretary of Health Umair Shah said at a media briefing last week. In addition, no vaccine has been approved for children under 5, making them more vulnerable.
“It’s not just about us, it’s also about the people around us, and how do we do what we can to protect the people around us?” Shah said.
People who are immunocompromised can protect themselves by getting tested if they have COVID symptoms or an exposure. They should consult their health care provider, since there are antivirals and other treatments that can help prevent severe disease, Shah said.
Okanogan County stats
The number of new COVID infections in Okanogan County continues to vacillate from week to week. Last week the number of infections, at 91, was just a third of the previous week’s, but from Feb. 23 to March 1, the number inched up again, with 110 new cases for the week, according to Okanogan County Public Health. Most cases were in Omak, Okanogan, Tonasket and Oroville.
Washington is lifting its mask mandate on a statewide basis, although local jurisdictions can set their own policies.
But the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is looking at risk on a county level, advising the use of masks only when there’s a high risk of COVID infection in a community.
The CDC is using a color-coded map to show the level of risk, although the map is updated only once a week. As of March 3, Okanogan, Douglas and Chelan counties are still in the high-risk category. Most of eastern Washington is at medium risk. All of western Washington, except for Pierce County, is at low risk, according to the CDC.
The CDC designed the system to provide an early warning of the potential for increasing hospitalizations or deaths, based on community transmission, hospitalization rates and the percentage of admissions for COVID, DOH Chief Science Officer Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett said at the media briefing. In rural areas with fewer hospitals beds, this methodology could keep a county at higher risk, he said.
DOH is working with the CDC on the recommendations and will have its own maps with more regularly updated data, he said. The risk levels also take into account hospital staffing and capacity, Shah said.