These updates will include COVID-19 news, summarize publicly available COVID-19 and vaccination data, and provide some context and details to help you understand what’s happening with COVID-19 in our community.
Beginning this week, these updates and our external data reports will cover two weeks of data, ending the previous Saturday. Unless there are new COVID-19 developments such as a surge, we will be moving to monthly updates and reports in April. You can find the data report, plus additional data, at www.whatcomcounty.us/coviddata.
COVID-19 cases continued their welcome decline in Whatcom County, falling to pre-Omicron levels. While this is encouraging news, we know that there are still many people who are concerned about COVID-19 because of their age or own health issues, their children who are too young to be vaccinated, or their loved ones who have compromised immune systems. Please remember that people have different priorities and concerns about changes in mask guidance, and be respectful and kind to others during this time.
Multiple layers of protection (boosters and vaccines, high-quality masks such as N95s, KN95s, or KF94s, and avoiding crowds and poorly-ventilated spaces) are still the best strategy to protect you and your loved ones from severe cases of COVID-19.
CDC mask guidance. Last week, the CDC released new guidance for masking and other prevention measures based on a new risk assessment tool, “COVID-19 community levels.” The levels are based on data about new hospital admissions for COVID-19, percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, and new cases. Notably, for the purposes of community levels, the CDC considers 200 cases per 100,000 to be “low” case rates, which is higher than the pre-vaccine definition of “low” (10 cases per 100,000). For more info on how the CDC developed the new community levels, see this PDF.
Keep in mind that a “low” community level doesn’t mean that COVID-19 is over for good, especially for people who are at higher risk. In addition, future variants and surges are also possible. Last summer, many of us thought and hoped that the pandemic was over, only to be clobbered by both Delta and Omicron. Don’t be discouraged by the possibility of another surge, but also don’t be overconfident that we’ve seen the last of COVID-19.
The health department continues to encourage people to comply with the state indoor mask mandate until it is lifted on March 12.
Masking and COVID measures in schools. We are expecting new guidance from the Washington State Department of Health for K-12 schools next week. In the meantime, we know that change can bring anxiety, especially for kids. Even the end of the mask mandate can bring stress. During the pandemic, children have experienced plenty and they look to parents and other grownups in their lives for cues. Set a good example. Like an umbrella or warm coat that we bring out in bad weather, masks will be a part of their lives when infections are on the rise.
Rapid tests. If you take an at-home rapid COVID-19 test and get a positive result, please report your result to the State COVID-19 Information Hotline. Dial 1-800-525-0127, then press #. Language assistance is available. This helps us track the spread of COVID-19 through the community. You can also anonymously notify your close contacts through WA Notify, which is available for both Apple and Android phones.
Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Production of this vaccine has been discontinued, and doses of it will be harder to find as time goes on. If you would like this vaccine, please make an appointment with the provider of your choice as soon as possible.
There is no data report this week due to the holiday weekend. In addition, to allow for more time for data reporting and cleaning, the Whatcom County Health Department's Health Information and Assessment group is revamping our data reporting schedule and will also be adding more context for our numbers. We have been concerned for a while that reporting deaths by vaccination status without the context of population numbers is causing some people to draw flawed conclusions. To take the most extreme example, if 100% of a population is fully vaccinated, then 100% of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths will be in fully vaccinated people, but it would be incorrect to conclude that the vaccines don't work based on that information.
We will be providing more thorough explanations of data in future reports.
Where to get vaccinated. Adolescents, teens and adults can get vaccinated for COVID-19 at most places you’d go for a flu vaccine, like grocery stores, pharmacies and health care clinics. Some of these providers also vaccinate 5- to 11-year-olds. There are also a number of pop-up clinics offering COVID-19 vaccines, some of which offer vaccines to 5- to 11-year-olds.
A more complete list of vaccine providers in Whatcom County can be found at VaccineLocator.doh.wa.gov.
Upcoming pop-up clinics:
Other clinics may be announced during the week. For an updated list, please visit whatcomcounty.us/covidvaccine.