Viral infection levels continue on a downward trend in Washington, bringing the state into a “cautiously optimistic” place as public health teams continue to work on COVID-19 and monkeypox prevention this fall.
The state is approaching an “important milestone” in its COVID recovery journey, state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah said Thursday, referring to the Oct. 31 date when the state’s COVID state of emergency is set to expire.
“It’s absolutely another crucial step in moving forward and it shows that when we come together as a state, we absolutely can accomplish so much,” Shah said in a news conference.
He noted while nearly all remaining COVID restrictions will be lifted at the end of October, a separate secretary of health order will still require face coverings in health care and correctional facilities for the time being. Shah’s office is in the process of reviewing the separate mask order, with “an eye toward when such requirements may be able to be pulled back.”
“Given where we may be with the beginning of respiratory season and flu season around the corner … we may simply not be there yet,” he added.
In Washington, COVID cases have been on the decline since mid-July. As of early September, the state’s average seven-day rate was 93.3 infections per 100,000 people, slightly higher than past lows but a huge decrease since the state’s omicron spike in January. During the worst of that wave, case rates soared past 1,800 per 100,000, according to the state Department of Health’s COVID data dashboard.
Hospitalizations have also dropped in recent months, now averaging about 4.7 hospitalizations per 100,000 or an average of 52 hospitalizations over seven days.
Deaths, which rose slightly over the summer despite remaining at relatively low levels, are back down to about seven per week.
State health leaders again encouraged Washingtonians to make appointments to receive the bivalent COVID vaccine booster shot, which became available this month to target omicron-specific infections. Since Sept. 1, more than 173,900 bivalent booster doses have been administered, said Michele Roberts, the state’s assistant secretary for prevention, safety and health.
The Pfizer booster has been approved for those 12 and up, while Moderna’s version is only available for adults.
The updated boosters are expected to also become available for those between the age of 5 and 11 later in October, Roberts said. More information from the federal government is expected soon, she said.
Monkeypox rates continue to decline in King County and Washington as vaccines make their way into the community and public health efforts push forward on education and prevention.
As of Thursday, the state had recorded about 556 monkeypox infections and 15 hospitalizations. No one has died from the virus in Washington. After state health officials counted 76 new infections in one week in early August, the number of new cases has been gradually decreasing. In the first week of September, the state tracked 42 new infections.
“The weekly number of reported new cases has steadily gone down in recent weeks, so we’re cautiously optimistic that our public health response against MPV has succeeded,” said chief science officer Dr. Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, using the term some agencies prefer for the virus. “However, it’s too early to conclude the outbreak is over, and we must continue to give high priority to vaccination and prevention efforts to maintain these gains.”
As of this week, more than 16,700 monkeypox vaccine doses had been administered, fully vaccinating more than 3,100 Washingtonians (meaning they’ve received both doses).
An additional 2,580 more vials are on their way, though supply is still limited in most counties, Roberts said. In King County, which has received 11,000 vials of vaccine, eligible people are encouraged to contact their health care provider or Public Health – Seattle & King County (800-756-5437) to make a vaccination appointment.
Other counties with fewer cases, like Kitsap, Benton and Lewis counties, were allotted less vaccine by the federal government and might have longer wait times.
“It’s very encouraging that MPV case counts seem to be slowing, but it’s critical we’re not complacent,” Kwan-Gett said.