Covid-19 is on rise; few seen in hospitals

The number of Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise again, but thanks to high vaccination rates and other tools to combat the virus, health experts aren’t as concerned about strains on the health care system.

“This is not going back to 2020,” said Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties. “I am not thinking we are going to overrun our hospitals.”

Speaking to the Board of Jefferson County Commissioners on Sept. 5, Berry said Covid-19 levels were rising locally and across the nation but that hospitalizations are still low, particularly among those who are up to date on their vaccines.

“We’ve seen 10 hospitalizations in the last month, all over the age of 70, and all but one were people who were not up to date in their vaccines,” Berry said of cases in Jefferson County.

According to the state Department of Health, the number of Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations has been slightly increasing since June when numbers were at their lowest for this year. For the week of June 5-11, there were 1,179 cases statewide or a rate of 15.4 cases per 100,000 people. For the week of Aug. 15-21, the latest dates state data is available, there were 2,874 cases or a rate of 37.5 cases per 100,000 people.

Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an 18.8 percent increase in hospitalizations from Covid-19 between July 21 and Aug. 19 and a 17.6 percent increase in deaths between July 8 and Aug. 26.

Cases in both Clallam and Jefferson counties have increased slightly in the past weeks, according to state data.

That’s a far cry from the state’s peak numbers in January 2022, when, in the week of Jan. 7-12, 2022, Washington saw 140,011 cases or a rate of 1,828.7 per 100,000 people.

But Berry said as the weather gets colder and people move indoors, the rate of respiratory diseases start to increase.

Part of what’s driving the increase is people are taking fewer precautions to protect themselves, Berry said, with less masking and social distancing and not staying up to date on vaccinations.

Schools on the North Olympic Peninsula resumed classes last week and this week, and Berry said that is likely to increase the rate of transmission of Covid-19.

An updated booster shot of the Covid-19 vaccine is expected to be available soon, Berry said, but supplies likely will be limited until mid-October.

Berry suggested those in good health hold off on getting the booster for at least a couple of weeks to allow for those at highest risk to get the updated vaccine.

The most recent vaccine booster will target the XBB.1.5 sub-variant of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, which Berry said is currently the most prevalent strain of the virus.

Those most at risk from Covid-19 are those 70 or older or those who have underlying medical conditions such as hypertension, cardiac disease or cancer.

Health officials also are seeing an increase in infections from Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV, which can be particularly harmful for older adults and infants.

Fortunately, Berry said updated vaccines for both Covid-19 and RSV will be available soon, as will this year’s flu shot, and people can get all three at the same time.

“All of these are now approved; not all are available,” Berry said.

On Sept. 11, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on approval updated Covid-19 vaccine booster shots from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech. The updated vaccines are each approved for people 12 and older and are authorized under emergency use for individuals 6 months through 11 years old.

Most insurance will cover the vaccines, Berry said, but not all. Currently, the RSV vaccine is covered by Medicare but only for Medicare Part D.

Drug maker GSK told a CDC panel that its RSV vaccine would be between $200 and $295, The Associated Press reported, and Pfizer has not disclosed a price.

Covid-19 boosters are free to the public and some pharmacies, including Walgreens and Rite Aid, offer in-store coupons as incentives.

Berry recommended staying up to date on the Covid-19 vaccine and said people should take extra precautions around those who may have health issues that put them at higher risk from the virus.

With the start of the school year, Berry noted that Covid-19 in children can look like a mild cold and said parents should test their children for Covid-19 if they’re showing symptoms.

Take-home tests are widely available and some schools are providing them for free to symptomatic children, Berry said.