While state health officials report declining COVID-19 case and hospitalization rates across Washington, the same trends are not emerging in Lewis County. The county’s case rate — new cases per 100,000 — recently breached 300, well past the state average of 224.6.
This week, county officials reported an additional COVID-19 death and a new congregate care outbreak. And while fewer cases were reported this week compared to last week — 131 versus 135 — 12 residents were hospitalized for the illness during both weeks.
Meanwhile, The Chronicle reported Pe Ell students have returned to remote learning after 20% of the district’s campus population was exposed to COVID-19.
“I think there are some other communities right now that are seeing a decrease that we are not seeing at this time,” Public Health Director JP Anderson said this week.
After reporting statewide declines in cases and hospital admissions to news media Wednesday, Health Secretary Umair Shah reminded Washingtonians that the signs of slowed transmission are not ubiquitous.
“We want to make sure that’s emphasized, that we want people to really know what’s happening in their local community,” Shah said.
Statewide, case rates and hospitalization rates have been on the decline since mid-April.
In Lewis County, just over a quarter of residents have been fully vaccinated, compared to 37.54% of the state.
The gap is even wider when compared to counties like King, where 45.5% of residents are fully vaccinated.
When asked how the county’s relatively low vaccination rate would play into the state’s full reopening, which Gov. Jay Inslee recently slated for June 30, Anderson said it will lead to more cases “and we will experience more of those negative health outcomes.”
According to state health officials, individuals 65 and older increase their risk of hospitalization by 10-fold if they are unvaccinated. Shah said Wednesday people 45 to 64 increase their risk of hospitalization by 18-fold.
This week, all counties moved — or remained — in Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan. While local health jurisdictions can impose their own restrictions to help curb the spread of the disease, Anderson signaled that such measures aren’t on the horizon.
“I don’t see any kind of program that would be designed to inhibit a reopening. I think that continues sometimes to polarize the issue of vaccinations, and might not actually get the intended outcome, which is to encourage people to review and consider getting a vaccine,” he said.
It’s Anderson’s hope that public health officials can “pull back a bit from the center stage” as the community takes on conversations around vaccinations.