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The fifth wave of the coronavirus pandemic has arrived in Washington

July 23, 2021 Updated Fri., July 23, 2021 at 8:47 p.m.

The fifth wave of the coronavirus pandemic is here, Washington’s Acting State Health Officer Dr. Scott Lindquist told reporters Friday.

The increase in cases seen in Spokane, as well as in other metro areas around the state, from Seattle to the Tri-Cities and Yakima, is concerning to health officials, particularly in those counties with lower vaccination rates.

On Friday, the Spokane Regional Health District confirmed more than 90 new COVID-19 cases, the highly daily case number reported since June 5.

The delta variant is playing a role in the increase in cases statewide, Lindquist said, making up 58% of the latest samples sequenced .

“The majority of these (delta variant cases) are in people who are not vaccinated, so in areas of the state where vaccination rates are low, that’s the concern,” Lindquist said.

Counties in eastern Washington have lower vaccination rates than counties in the Puget Sound region or in the rest of western Washington.

For example, Benton County has 52.3% of eligible residents receiving at least one dose of a vaccine, while Whatcom County in the northwest part of the state has 69.3% of its eligible residents receiving at least one dose.

In Spokane County, 54.4% of residents 12 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. These vaccination rates are lower when the total population is accounted for.

So far, the increase in cases has not meant an increase in hospitalizations in Washington state due to COVID-19.

“We are not seeing a huge increase in hospitalization with the delta variant,” Lindquist said, although that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.

“I expect we will likely see that; I am just not seeing it in the data right now,” he added.

On Friday, Dr. Jeff Duchin, the health officer in King County, recommended that everyone wear a mask in indoor public spaces, regardless of vaccination status. His recommendation was, in part, due to the modeling from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation that shows universal masking could save hundreds of Washington residents’ lives between July and November.

The IHME model predicts that if 95% of people wore masks in the next week statewide, there would be 840 fewer deaths in Washington by November, based on their reference scenario model.

Lindquist said he and health officers around the state are in discussions about mask recommendations or mandates going forward. He warned that the more cases increase, the higher the likelihood of a reinstated mask mandate.

“If this gets worse, we may see some requirements coming from the CDC, or the governor or the state (through Secretary Umair Shah’s mask order), but we’re not in that place right now,” Lindquist said. “It’s up to us to have some common sense.”

So far fully, vaccinated people are not testing positive for COVID-19 at abnormal rates, and these cases, called breakthrough cases, are being monitored closely. It was just a few months ago when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said fully vaccinated people did not need to wear masks, and so far the vaccines are holding their efficacy against all the variants. How that progresses is top of mind for Lindquist, though.

“We’re worried that the vaccines may have more breakthrough with the delta variant; I am watching that carefully,” he said. “I’m not seeing a signal yet, but I’m very concerned about that.”

Lindquist encouraged those who have not been vaccinated to do so, but he said vaccines are not the only tools available for stopping the spread of the delta variant, noting that wearing a mask is still an effective way to slow the spread of new variants.

Vaccines are available at pharmacies and health care providers throughout Spokane County. Find a dose using the state’s vaccine locator tool, or by calling (833) VAX-HELP.

Here’s a look at local numbers

The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 93 new COVID-19 cases on Friday and no additional deaths.

There are 30 people hospitalized with the virus in Spokane .

The Panhandle Health District confirmed 39 new COVID-19 cases and no additional deaths.

There are 23 Panhandle residents hospitalized with the virus.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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