COVID-19 variants found in Walla Walla County, health officer says.

Dr. Daniel Kaminsky

Eight cases of COVID-19 variants have been found in Walla Walla County.

In an update last week, the Centers for Disease Prevention and Controls said viruses constantly change through mutation and new variations, or variants, of a virus are to be expected. Some emerge, then disappear, while others persists.

“Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented on the United States and globally during this pandemic,” CDC officials said.

The CDC is currently tracking five “variants of concern” in the United States.

Walla Walla County’s public health officer, Dr. Daniel Kaminsky, and Washington state health officials said that two of those — B.1.427 and B.1.429 — have been diagnosed in the county’s current eight cases of COVID-19 variants discovered through a sampling of the state’s positive specimens.

These variants were first identified in California in February and classified as variants of concern (VOC) last month.

The CDC said these two genetic mutations of the COVID-19 virus seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which could increase case counts and put a bigger strain on health care resources, more hospitalization and potentially more deaths.

Kaminsky said early data suggests antibodies generated through vaccination for COVID-19 are effective on those two variants. However, the CDC said more study is needed.

Kaminsky is advising rigorous and increased compliance with prevention strategies like hand washing, use of masks, physical distancing and isolation to limit the spread of all strains of COVID-19, noting even more concerning variants are active in Washington state.

On Tuesday, April 6, Umatilla County Public Health director Joseph Fiumara said the county becomes eligible on Friday, April 9, to move from “high risk” to the “moderate risk” category of the state’s four-level disease metrics plan.

There were 25 cases of the illness in the county last week, making a two-week count of 68, Fiumara said.

The moderate category includes allowances for indoor dining at 50% or 100 people; outdoor dining of up to 150 people; at-home, outdoor gatherings of 10 people; indoor recreation and entertainment at 50% capacity or 100 people; retail store capacity of 75%; church services and funerals at 50% capacity indoors or up to 150 people and up to 250 people outdoors.

The Walla Walla County Department of Community Health reported three cases of COVID-19 for Monday, April 5, making 46 active cases with one person hospitalized.

The county’s death toll continues at a count of 64 people.

The county’s case total is 4,876 since March 1, 2020; the current positive test rate is 2.2%.

Umatilla County Public Health reported six additional COVID-19 cases for a total of 7,883. That includes 82 deaths in total.

Umatilla County is in the ”high risk” category of Oregon’s four-stage COVID-19 risk level plan.

Columbia County Public Health reported no active COVID-19 cases.

Washington’s Department of Health reported 736 new COVID-19 cases and seven more virus-related deaths.

Those numbers bring the state’s totals to 370,017 cases and 5,285 deaths.

Oregon Health Authority reported 248 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the state total to 167,128.

There were two new deaths, making the state’s death toll 2,392.

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Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers health, social services and city government in Milton-Freewater, Athena and Weston in the Walla Walla Valley.