Health officials advise COVID-19 precautions including face masks – Methow Valley News – Methow Valley News

Subvariant accounts for increase in cases

Health officials are advising people to take extra precautions to protect themselves and others from COVID, now that cases are rising again in Washington and across the country.

People in indoor settings that are crowded, have poor ventilation, or where they can’t keep a good distance from others should wear a high-quality mask, Washington Secretary of Health Umair Shah said at a briefing last week. Individuals at higher risk from infection —– those who are older or who have underlying health conditions, or who live with someone in those categories — should consider masking in all indoor public settings, he said.

The state is not considering a new mask mandate, but is encouraging people to use a face covering in these high-risk settings, Shah said. “The increases in cases and hospitalizations show this is the time to double-down on remembering the pandemic isn’t over,” Shah said.

Washington has seen a gradual increase in cases and hospitalizations since early April, but not at the steep rate of the Delta and Omicron surges, Shah said. Fortunately, the state has not recorded an increase in deaths, he said.

Okanogan County is one of just four counties in the state where the seven-date rate of COVID infections was under 50 per 100,000 population in the week from May 9 through 16, according to the state Department of Health (DOH). The seven-day rate in Okanogan County was 39, with 17 cases reported to public health authorities.

Because more people have been using at-home tests, the DOH current COVID case count is most likely an undercount, Shah said.

The biggest increase in cases is in western Washington, but infections are rising across the state, Shah said.

A new Omicron subvariant, BA2.12.1, accounts for an increasing number of cases, but it doesn’t appear to cause more serious disease. By mid-May, it accounted for about 13% of new cases in the state, but the proportion of cases attributed to the new variant has been growing. It already accounts for more than half of new cases nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The original Omicron variant, BA2, is still the dominant strain in Washington, according to DOH.

Boosters for children

In May, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the use of a single vaccine booster dose for children ages 5 through 11.

“While it has largely been the case that COVID-19 tends to be less severe in children than adults, the Omicron wave has seen more kids getting sick with the disease and being hospitalized, and children may also experience longer-term effects, even following initially mild disease,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said.

The FDA is still studying the safety and efficacy of a vaccine for children under 5, and there’s no timeline for when one might be approved, DOH Assistant Secretary for Prevention and Health Michele Roberts said.

Free tests

People can get up to 10 free at-home tests through https://sayyescovidhometest.org. Having tests on hand will allow people to check their status before gathering with others — in particular if they’re going to be with people at higher risk, which includes children under 5, DOH COVID-19 Medical Advisor Bob Lutz said.

People who do get COVID can take advantage of a medication called Paxlovid, which has been shown to be 90% effective in preventing severe disease if taken within the first five days of infection, Lutz said.

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