The omicron variant is here in Lewis County and COVID-19 activity is increasing.
Last week’s caseload increased 37% as 265 cases were reported the week of Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, according to numbers published Wednesday by Lewis County Public Health & Social Services. One new death was reported.
Sixteen new hospitalizations were reported last week, which was also an increase. Lewis County currently has the sixth-highest hospitalization rate due to COVID-19 in Washington state, according to state Department of Health data, with a seven-day rate of 19.9 hospitalizations per 100,000 population. Statewide, that rate is at about 12.9.
“What we’re seeing in Lewis County is that it has one of the largest spikes in hospitalizations in the state currently. We know that in the South Sound, especially in Pierce (County), hospitals are at capacity,” said Dr. Paul Sherman, chief medical officer with Community Health Plan of Washington.
But Lewis County hasn’t likely yet seen the full extent of the more-infectious omicron variant.
According to Lewis County Public Health’s report, the rate of new cases statewide has soared the past couple weeks up to 984 new cases per 100,000 people reported over the last 14 days. Lewis County is currently reporting a rate of 590 new cases in the same metric, and has increased only slightly in recent weeks.
Rising cases over a sustained period will likely lead to more hospitalizations and, later, deaths.
Sherman, who oversees the state’s first nonprofit managed care plan founded by low-barrier community health centers, said he expects the current wave of omicron will continue to produce historically-high cases of COVID-19 over the next few weeks, possibly ending with a stark decline.
Though omicron COVID-19 cases appear to be less severe, the high reproduction rate of the new variant may continue to exacerbate deep challenges in health care settings and hospitals across the state. Hospitalization and death rates thus far have shown that omicron is much less severe when compared with last summer’s delta wave, though Sherman said the sheer number of new cases and spread of the virus is alarming.
Sherman said it’s possible more rural communities with lower rates of vaccination might end up seeing higher death rates than metro communities with higher vaccination rates, especially since unvaccinated individuals who catch omicron are more likely to get infected again than vaccinated individuals.
But there’s still hope, though.
“The way this is spreading across the world, it gives us hope future variants won’t be able to get a foothold as well as the ones in the last 18 months have,” Sherman said.
According to Department of Health data, about 48% of the total population in Lewis County is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
During a Wednesday morning report to the Lewis County Board of Commissioners, Public Health Director JP Anderson said the medical community was still working to understand how the omicron variant spreads and more about how sick people are getting.
He said Providence Southwest Washington told his department recently that 101 patients were currently receiving care due to COVID-19, though no information was provided on how sick people were getting. The peak patient load seen during last summer’s delta wave was at about 106 patients, Anderson said.
“We’re hoping that, although we are going to be seeing more cases and this is a time for people to be cautious, that we will be OK and that we won’t have too many people die or that our hospitals won’t be overwhelmed,” Anderson said.
County COVID-19 testing at the Lewis County Mall last week saw a large increase as more than 532 individuals were tested, according to Public Health’s report. Approximately 1,987 tests have been conducted at the site since it opened Nov. 26.
Lewis County last week reported there were nine active outbreaks of the virus in congregate care facilities.
What to Do if You Test Positive for COVID-19
The following is a news release published last week from the state Department of Health on what to do if you test positive for COVID-19:
The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) is offering a detailed reminder about what people should do if they test positive for COVID-19. Cases are rising sharply, driven by the omicron variant, which is believed to be more contagious than previous variants, including delta. Tracking cases and preventing further spread of disease starts with testing; anyone with any signs or symptoms of COVID-19 or known exposures should get tested, regardless of vaccination status or prior infection.
What to do if you test positive:
• Follow the latest CDC and DOH guidance and isolate at home, away from others
- People who test positive should isolate.
- All close contacts should quarantine.
• Wear a mask while inside and ask others in your home to do the same (preferably a KN95, KF-94, or a 3-ply surgical mask, if possible).
- There are often gaps when masks are ill-fitting. Knot ear loops where they join the face to improve the mask fit.
- You may also double mask to tamp down gaps.
• Ventilate your space as much as you can.
- Set the fan of your heating system to “on” or “high” instead of “auto”.
- If your home has an HVAC system, make sure it has a fresh filter and change it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Open the windows briefly to allow fresh air in, when possible.
• Use WA Notify to report your positive home test, if applicable.
• Reach out to your close contacts and let them know they’ve been exposed and that they should quarantine.
• Stay hydrated, use over the counter medications such as acetaminophen to stay comfortable and manage symptoms.
• Seek medical care if you display the following symptoms:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- Confusion, Inability to wake or stay awake
- Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds (or an abnormally low reading on a pulse oximeter, if you have one).
“As cases continue to rise, people may need a reminder of what to do if they test positive,” Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, MD, MPH, Chief Science Officer with DOH, said in a statement. “We hope this is a helpful guide and reminds people of all the tools we have in our toolbox to protect ourselves, as individuals, our families, and our communities.”