Vaccines

Pharmacist Amanda Johnson mixes vaccine at Providence St. Mary Medical Center. State health officials are including vaccine dose counts in daily COVID-19 data.

This article has been modified to make a correction.

The current trajectory of COVID-19 numbers is uneven but headed downward nonetheless.

Dr. Daniel Kaminsky, director of Walla Walla County Department of Community Health, reported on Tuesday, Feb. 22, that case rates of the virus have dropped nationwide by 43%, related hospitalizations by nearly 29% and deaths by 14.5% as of mid-February.

In Washington state and in Walla Walla County, that trend is following suit.

From Feb. 1 through Feb. 20, local case rates dropped by 74%, Kaminsky said.

Hospitalizations at Providence St. Mary Medical Center are now ranging from seven to 13 patients per day, and most of those patients are Walla Walla County residents, he told county commissioners.

On Wednesday, Feb. 23, the hospital released a statement that visitor restrictions are being eased due to declining cases of COVID-19 here.

Two visitors are now allowed during one period per day for the duration of the patient's stay. Some rules will stay in place, such as no visitors in COVID-19-positive rooms.

People who are expected to die within 24 hours can have up to four visitors at a time, and those visitors may rotate out of the room to allow others to see the patient.

Other regulations include:

  • In the Birthing Center, two support people of the mother’s choosing are permitted throughout the stay. They cannot rotate.
  • Patients under age 18 can have two support people; one supporter must be a parent or guardian.
  • Patients can have clergy visits.

Everyone who enters the hospital must follow Washington state law that says people are required to wear appropriate and safe masks that fully cover their nose and mouth in health care settings, even after the indoor masking mandate lifts on March 21.

Any ending of that rule is not in sight at this time, hospital officials said.

Providence St. Mary is asking patients and their families to consider communication through phone calls and video chats as their primary means of communication.

The number of new vaccine seekers in Walla Walla County has dropped — last week just two people started the series of three shots at Providence Southgate Medical Park and 94 people got a booster dose, Kaminsky said.

Commissioner Greg Tompkins said getting vaccinated against the potentially fatal virus is a personal choice, but the county is making vaccines available for those who choose to do so.

In Umatilla County, Commissioner George Murdoch said the dramatic case numbers spike from the omicron variant is peaking as predicted by health experts.

Public Health Director Joe Fiumara characterized the downward trend as numbers “dropping like a rock,” Murdoch said.

“As case numbers and hospitalizations go down, the possibility of changes in mask mandates continue to be in question. Washington will lift their regulations on March 21. Oregon schools are scheduled to see an end to masking on March 31. Rules for the public in Oregon continue to be fluid with the possibility if numbers go down dramatically, it could be earlier than March 31,” the commissioner said.

COVID-19 numbers for Walla Walla County, Feb. 22:

  • Total population vaccinated is 59.1%, the same as on Feb. 14.
  • 77 new cases.
  • 503 active cases, down from 993 last week.
  • 14 admissions at Providence St. Mary Medical Center.
  • 122 deaths, the same as last week, according to county data.

Washington state reports 129 deaths

  • 15,315 total cases, up by 300 from last week.
  • Reported test positivity rate is 5.8%, down from 22.2%.

Numbers for Umatilla County, Feb. 23:

  • 21 new cases, down from 59 on Feb. 15.
  • 201 deaths, up three from last week.
  • 22,153 total cases.
  • 39,863 of 81,495 residents are vaccinated, up by 114 from Feb. 15.

Numbers for Columbia County, Feb. 14:

  • 57 total hospitalizations, one more than reported last week.
  • 15 deaths total, an increase of two.
  • 603 total cases, up from 589 last week.

Information for Columbia County is from Washington State Department of Health.

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.

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