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COVID-19 transmission and hospitalizations at a new all-time high

Masking in indoor public spaces a necessary addition to vaccination

OLYMPIA – The latest COVID-19 modeling and surveillance situation report from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) shows current COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions at their highest levels to date. These upward trends are likely to continue in the coming month due to the delta variant. With hospital staff and capacities strained statewide, both masking and vaccination are now crucial to control and manage disease transmission.

Report findings include:

  • Estimates of statewide transmission have continued the sharp increase noted in the previous situation report. On Aug. 6, the best estimate of the effective reproductive number (Re, which tells us how many new people each COVID-19 case will infect) was 1.49. In July, this number was an estimated 1.46. In June, Re was an estimated 0.70, which means that in a short period of time, transmission trends have reversed from earlier successes and are continuing to climb rapidly. A reproductive number above one means that cases will continue to increase. To see cases decline, the reproductive number needs to stay well below 1.0 for a substantial amount of time.

  • COVID-19 prevalence has nearly quadrupled between July 8 and August 6. Our best current estimate of prevalence is 0.64% as of Aug. 6, which means about 1 in 156 Washingtonians has an active COVID-19 infection. These levels are similar to those at the height of the third wave in the winter of 2020. Our July 8 estimate for prevalence was 0.17%, or 1 in every 588 Washingtonians — meaning nearly 4 times as many people now have active COVID infections in just one month’s time. About 45% of the population is still susceptible to COVID-19 infection.

  • Hospitalizations are at an all-time high. Both total beds and intensive care unit (ICU) beds occupied by COVID-19 patients have increased sharply, exceeding the previous high point of winter’s third wave. The seven-day rolling average for hospital admissions declined to a low of 29 as of June 16 and remained low through July 8. As of Aug. 6, however, the seven-day average of admissions has tripled to 96, and this increase continues in the incomplete data. Hospitalizations are also increasing in younger ages, notably 20-29 and 30-39.

  • Vaccination continues to prevent serious illness. Unvaccinated people ages 16-44 and 45-64 are 10 times more likely to be hospitalized than those who are fully vaccinated. Admissions are about 6 times higher for unvaccinated people ages 65 and up. If the entire population were to experience the rates of hospitalizations currently seen in the unvaccinated, the hospital system would be completely overwhelmed.

  • Immunity trends saw modest increases. On Aug. 6, the best model-based estimate of statewide population immunity (from either vaccination or prior infection) was 54.7%, an increase of just 2.8% since the July 8 estimate in the previous situation report. Immunity from prior infection was about 15.5%, meaning that without vaccinations the vast majority of Washington State would have no protection against infection — further highlighting the essential role of vaccination.

  • Case rates increased sharply in most Washington counties. Twelve counties had 14-day rates of new cases between 100 and 200 per 100,000 people. Sixteen counties had rates between 200 and 300 per 100,000 people. Five counties (Pierce, Spokane, Pacific, Asotin, Lewis) had rates between 300-500 per 100,000. Four counties (Walla Walla, Cowlitz, Benton, Franklin) had cases 500 or more per 100,000. All counties have transmission levels considered substantial or high by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Death rates are fairly flat, with some variability. The seven-day rolling average has varied between 5 and 10 deaths per day since March 23 and is currently at 6 per day as of July 30.

  • Delta variant is now dominant. About 98% of cases are estimated to be caused by the Delta variant.

“Vaccinations will help us in the long term, but in order to get through the short term, we need to be wearing face coverings right now to control the spread of COVID-19,” said Acting Chief Science Officer Scott Lindquist, MD, MPH. “We absolutely need to realize that it could literally be any one of us, or our loved ones, needing hospital care in the near future. At this point, to ensure that care is available when we need it, our hospitals are counting on every one of us to mask up and get vaccinated.”

To protect yourself and your family, and to reduce COVID-19 transmission in your community:

  • Wear a mask. With limited exceptions, masks are required in indoor public settings for people ages 5 and older, vaccinated or not, and strongly recommended for children ages 2-4. We also strongly recommend masking at crowded outdoor events.

  • Get vaccinated. Vaccination reduces your chances of becoming seriously sick or hospitalized. Visit Vaccine Locator, text your zip code to GETVAX (438829) or VACUNA (822862) to receive addresses of nearby available vaccination sites, or call 833-VAX-HELP.

  • Get tested if you have symptoms or have been exposed, vaccinated or not. As cases rise, testing is more important than ever. See what kind of test you need at Testing for COVID-19 or call the COVID-19 hotline 1-800-525-0127, then press #.

  • Use WA Notify. More than 2 million Washingtonians are using WA Notify to be alerted if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19. Visit WA Notify for help activating these notifications on your mobile device.

DOH has partnered with the Institute for Disease Modeling (IDM), Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, University of Washington and the Microsoft AI for Health program to develop these reports since the early months of this pandemic. More COVID-19 data can be found on the DOH data dashboard.

The DOH website is your source for a healthy dose of information. Find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Sign up for the DOH blog, Public Health Connection.