CDC improves Tri-Cities, WA, COVID rating, recommends masks

Benton and Franklin counties have new “high” ratings for COVID-19 community levels from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s the worst rating for the counties in recent months and up from “low” ratings just a week ago.

The CDC recommends residents of both counties wear masks indoors in public. The rating also triggers a requirement for workers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Hanford Nuclear Reserve to wear face masks.

Sewage testing for coronavirus genetic material also shows a high level of virus in the Tri-Cities. The total level announced on Thursday exceeds last winter’s peak of cases that were fueled by the original omicron variant.

Now, transmission in much of the country is fueled by the spread of the BA-5 variant, in addition to the BA-4 variant, of omicron.

Fewer people are hospitalized than with the original omicron variant, but deaths continue to be reported.

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Benton and Franklin counties now have a “high” COVID-19 community level, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On the map, orange is “high”, yellow is “medium”, and green is “low”. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Benton Franklin Health District reported three recent deaths from COVID-19 complications in its weekly report Thursday, bringing the total reported since the pandemic began to more than 700.

Washington state doctors are also warning of the risk of long COVID, with lingering symptoms, for those infected.

CDC COVID Ranking

In addition to recommending the wearing of masks indoors in public places for everyone in Benton and Franklin counties, the CDC says people at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 may need to take additional precautions.

They may want to avoid non-essential public indoor activities, have a quick test plan, and ask their doctor if they are candidates for treatments, including preventative treatments, according to the CDC.

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A Hanford worker wears a mask while testing electrical circuit breakers. Workers must now wear masks indoors, even if they are vaccinated against COVID-19. Courtesy of the Department of Energy

Over the coming week at the Hanford nuclear reserve, which employs around 11,000 people, masks will be mandatory indoors regardless of vaccination status, but with exceptions such as when an individual is alone in a office with the door closed.

Tours of the Hanford B reactor, part of the Manhattan Project National Historic Park, have been canceled until the CDC’s rating drops.

At PNNL — which employs 5,350 people, the majority of them at its Richland campus — face coverings are mandatory indoors, with some exceptions, for the coming week. Employees who have not been vaccinated must provide a negative test result and physical distance.

Benton and Franklin counties are among 14 counties in the state with a “high” CDC rating. Twenty counties have “medium” ratings and only five now have “poor” ratings.

Across the country, 25% of counties have “low” community levels of COVID-19, 40% have “medium” levels and 35% have “high” levels, according to the CDC.

The CDC rates counties based on the number of new COVID-19 cases, hospital beds used by COVID patients, and hospital admissions for people with the disease.

Tri-Cities COVID Deaths

The three newly announced COVID-19 deaths were all Benton County residents.

Among them, a 90-year-old woman and men in their 70s and 80s.

The Benton Franklin Health District reports recent deaths once a week, usually on a Thursday. Last Thursday, five deaths were reported, bringing the total for the month so far to eight.

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This screenshot from the Benton Franklin Health District shows the hospitalization rate for COVID-19 increased in July. Courtesy of Benton Franklin Health District

July is on track to surpass the number of COVID-19 deaths reported in recent months. Seven to nine deaths have been reported each of the past three months.

The deaths reported Thursday bring the total number of COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic to 701, including 485 Benton County residents and 216 Franklin County residents.

In the Tri-Cities, local public health officials are verifying that deaths were due to COVID complications by verifying a positive test result and that coronavirus infection was listed as the primary cause of death on the certificate of death.

It may take several weeks for the district to receive and reconcile death information due to reporting processes from medical facilities and coroner’s offices and the process for issuing and publishing death certificates.

Statewide, 13,434 residents have died of COVID complications since the pandemic began, including 100 in the past week, according to data from the Washington State Department of Health.

Tri-Cities COVID Cases

The new COVID case rate for the Tri-Cities was down slightly from the start of the month, but higher than in June.

The Benton Franklin Health District on Thursday reported a new case rate for Benton and Franklin counties combined of 144 new cases per 100,000 population over one week. Case rates for individual counties were roughly the same.

However, public health officials are moving to other measures as home testing for COVID-19 grows in popularity and these test results are generally not flagged for inclusion in new rate data. of cases.

The concentration of genetic material from the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in Tri-Cities sewage was the highest last week since testing began in late fall.

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A screenshot from the Benton Franklin Health District website shows high levels of coronavirus in untreated Tri-Cities sewage. Courtesy of Benton Franklin Health District

Concentrations have surpassed the winter peak of COVID-19 caused by the original omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Untreated wastewater is collected from municipal plants in Kennewick, Pasco, Richland and West Richland for analysis.

Benton and Franklin county hospitals are treating a total of about 26 patients for COVID-19 per week, which has remained stable in July so far but is above June levels.

Dr. Jeff Duchin, public health officer – Seattle and King County, said the CDC estimated that a few weeks ago, 65% to 95% of new COVID-19 cases in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska were caused by the new BA-5 subvariant of the omicron variant and to a lesser extent the new BA-4 subvariant.

Long COVID

The BA-5 subvariant is more effective at evading people’s immunity to both previous COVID-19 infections and vaccination.

“That means it’s very easy for people who previously had COVID to get sick again,” he said at a press conference on Thursday.

Vaccination against COVID-19 still provides protection against hospitalization and death, but booster shots are important, especially for the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, he said.

“The most important advice I can give you to protect yourself from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated and get your booster shot when you are eligible,” he said.

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The Centers for Disease Control recommends that masks be worn in indoor public places in the Tri-Cities, after rating the community level of COVID-19 in Benton and Franklin counties as high. matt rourke AP file

Even mild infections are worth avoiding because each infection brings a new risk of long COVID and other health issues, Duchin said.

Long COVID is defined as any new, recurrent, or persistent health condition four weeks or more after an initial COVID-19 infection.

Symptoms can last for weeks, months or, in some cases, years, he said.

Although long COVID is more likely in people who have severe initial cases, it also occurs in people who had mild or no symptoms.

Research suggests that being vaccinated reduces, but does not eliminate, the risk of long COVID, he said.

Some of the most common symptoms of long COVID are fatigue, brain fog, and blood pressure and heart rate issues that can leave people dizzy or have a headache. Sleep problems are also common.

The UW Medicine Clinic for Post-COVID-19 Rehabilitation and Recovery at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle sees long-term COVID patients of all backgrounds and ages, including teenagers, Dr. Janna Friedly said, during the Thursday’s press conference. They include people who were previously very healthy.

“COVID is like a lighter fluid,” she said. “It sets everything on fire.”

The General Accountability Office estimated in March that 7.7 million to 23 million people in the United States had developed long COVID.

Senior Writer Annette Cary covers Hanford, energy, environment, science and health for the Tri-City Herald. She was a journalist for over 30 years in the Pacific Northwest.

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