COVID-19 testing signs piled

Signs stacked on the ground by crews dismantling the University of Washington testing site at Providence Southgate Medical Park on Saturday, April 9, 2022.

Umatilla County Public Health will resume near-daily reporting of COVID-19 numbers as active cases surge again.

When deciding to dial back daily reports of the virus in mid-March to a once-weekly publication schedule, Director Joseph Fiumara said, health officials set a number that would again trigger more frequent reporting.

Fiumara said then that 80 new cases a week would do it, and last week’s 79 active cases in Umatilla County comes close enough.

“This is the largest weekly case count in Umatilla County since February, 2022,” he noted in a news release on Monday, June 6.

In response, public health will be updating its online information Monday through Thursday.

People need to be aware that the pandemic didn’t go anywhere over the past 11 weeks, and COVID-19 will be circulating in the community at elevated levels over the next few weeks.

People age 50 and older are “highly encouraged” to get booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, Fiumara said.

As in Oregon, Washington health officials are also urging people to redeploy pandemic precautions.

Washington State Hospital Association head Cassie Sauer said in a news briefing that while most people are not getting as sick from COVID-19 as they were during previous peaks of the virus, hospitalizations for the illness have increased by 10% over the past week alone, according to The Seattle Times. The state is seeing six to seven related deaths per day.

“About 20 to 25 COVID-19 patients are on ventilators per day, compared to 100-plus in January,” reported Elise Takahama for The Seattle Times.

At the end of May, state health officials recorded about 265 infections per 100,000, up from about 40 per 100,000 people in mid-March and likely an under count, Takahama’s story said.

Sauer said current infection and hospitalization levels remain lower than during the state’s last omicron surge. She noted doctors and scientists have a better understanding of the disease now, as well as better access to antiviral drugs.

Dr. Daniel Kaminsky in Walla Walla County said case rates have been steadily rising on the Washington side of the state line.

While Walla Walla County enjoyed weeks of few to no virus-related hospitalizations, that number has recently gone up, too, he said, noting most of those admitted are not fully vaccinated for the illness or are older adults.

Last week the county also reported its 138th death from COVID-19; a woman in her 80s died after testing positive for the illness.

Kaminsky said he has a sense this wave of the pandemic has plateaued and numbers will be heading down again. In the meantime, his department is exploring a campaign to remind people of how important COVID-19 booster shots are.

“Boosters have been very helpful in decreasing the disease in the community and incidents of hospitalizations.”

Dr. Umair Shaw, Washington’s Secretary of Health, recently called for a renewal of indoor masking due to rising infection and hospitalization rates. Officials, however, stopped short of announcing a new masking mandate.

“On Monday, hospital leaders urged people to continue masking inside, staying socially distant and getting vaccinated,” The Seattle Times reported.

COVID-19 numbers for Walla Walla County, June 6:

  • 14 new cases.
  • 60.7% of all residents fully vaccinated.
  • 272 active cases, up by 99 from May 4.
  • Five residents hospitalized.
  • 138 deaths; Washington state Department of Health is reporting 143 deaths in Walla Walla County.
  • 16,380 total cases.
  • Reported test positivity rate is 4.6, up from 1.2% about a month ago.

Numbers for Umatilla County, June 6:

  • 79 reported cases over the past week.
  • 226 deaths.
  • 22,772 total cases, an increase of 320 cases since early May.
  • 40,550 of 81,495 residents are vaccinated; 37% of Milton-Freewater residents are vaccinated.

Numbers for Columbia County, June 6:

  • No active cases.
  • 63 total hospitalizations, an increase of four over the last month.
  • 16 deaths total, unchanged from last month.
  • 625 total cases, up from 609 on May 4.

Some information for Columbia and Walla Walla counties 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.

(1) comment

randal41009

Thank you for the coverage, Sheila. :-)

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