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Cautious optimism, mixed signs with omicron variant in Washington and Idaho

Courtesy Washington Department of Health

The surge appears to have plateaued in western Washington, not yet east of the Cascades

“Western Washington is different than eastern Washington in both our cases and hospitalizations,” said state epidemiologist Scott Lindquist. “”We will likely see a lag in eastern Washington and the cases and hospitalizations and it will make the rate seem like it’s going down slower.”

Indeed, in Spokane County, about 200 Covid-positive people are receiving hospital care, though those numbers have gradually decreased over the last few days.

That’s encouraging, says Lindquist. Even better, he says, is that the new subvariant of the highly-contagious omicron strain doesn’t appear to present a new threat that would lead to another surge in cases.

“I don’t want to chase our tails with reporting numbers of every subvariant because every variant has a subvariant. I’m not so interested in this one unless it has clinical implication, which it has not,” Lindquist said.

The state health department says hospitalization rates for unvaccinated patients are five times higher for people younger than 35, eight times higher for those 65 and older.

In Spokane County, one piece of evidence shows omicron isn’t the mortal threat posed by the delta strain. At the height of the delta surge, between five and 10 people died of Covid in the region everyday. Now, health district officials say, the Covid death rate ranges from one to three per day. Part of the reason for that, says health officer Francisco Velazquez, is that the county vaccination rate jumped from 53% to 63% between September and January.

“We do know that vaccines work and we do know that even if you get a breakthrough case, for individuals who are fully vaccinated and boosted, the vast majority of those cases are mildly symptomatic,” he said.

More people have received their initial Covid vaccine regimens and boosters and more are testing themselves for the virus. This week, the state of Washington offered hundreds of thousands of free Covid testing kits through an online signup form. They were quickly snapped up, the second time a free giveaway ended within hours of opening. To date, Washington has given out more than two million dollars. There are hopes the state will secure — and give out — more tests, says Lacy Fehrenbach, Washington’s deputy secretary for Covid response.

“There is the possibility that we could expand this program further,” she said. “It just depends on how we navigate the supply chain challenges.”

Free home testing kits are also available through the federal government at Covid tests dot gov. They’re also available for purchase at many pharmacies.

In Idaho, Covid testing is showing record positivity levels. Nearly 39-percent of tests reported to state health officials last week were positive. Idaho’s Southwest Health District remains in crisis standards of care, meaning care is rationed there to prioritize people with the coronavirus.

Physicians around the region are preparing to provide Covid vaccinations to young children, in case federal health agencies authorize shots for children five and younger. Pfizer and BioNTech have asked the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization for their vaccines.

Steve was part of the Spokane Public Radio family for many years before he came on air in 1999. His wife, Laurie, produced Radio Ethiopia in the late 1980s through the '90s, and Steve used to “lurk in the shadowy world” of Weekend SPR. Steve has done various on air shifts at the station, including nearly 15 years as the local Morning Edition host. Currently, he is the voice of local weather and news during All Things Considerd, writing, editing, producing and/or delivering newscasts and features for both KPBX and KSFC. Aside from SPR, Steve ,who lives in the country, enjoys gardening, chickens, playing and listening to music, astronomy, photography, sports cars and camping.
One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.