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After declines, COVID-19 case and hospitalization rates in Washington appear to have stalled

Dr. Ben Arthurs dons personal protective equipment as he listens to a patient report from a resident physician in the ICU on Sep 17, 2021, at MultiCare Deaconess Hospital in Spokane.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

COVID-19 case rates and hospitalizations in Washington appear to be flattening after declining for a few weeks.

This concerns health officials, who would like to see case rates continue to decline.

Case rates and hospitalizations are still at high levels compared to previous waves of the virus.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist said people gathering indoors without masks as often and those declining to get vaccinated are preventing the rates from falling .

Officials, however, are hopeful some help could be on the way with the potential that children ages 5 to 11 years old could be made eligible for vaccines starting late next week.

“There’s still a light at the end of the tunnel here, but it is concerning that we’re this high and starting to slow down,” Lindquist said.

So far, 60% of Washington’s total population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a number too low to reach the desired immunity level.

Lindquist said a conservative estimate is that at least 80% of the population would need to be vaccinated to reach that desired immunity level, but that changed with the delta variant. Now that percentage is likely higher.

“The state is not entirely equal with its vaccine coverage, so it will probably take quite a bit more than that 80%,” he said.

From Sept. 15 to Oct. 12, unvaccinated 12- to 34-year-olds were 16 times more likely to be hospitalized with the virus than vaccinated people in that age group. For 35- to 64-year-olds, those who were unvaccinated were 18 times more likely to be hospitalized with the virus than their vaccinated counterparts.

“Your risk for COVID increases the more people you gather with, the more close you are in contact with those people, the more mixing there is of groups and the more time you spend in confined spaces indoors,” Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary of health at the department, told reporters Wednesday. “That means if you’re not vaccinated or you live in a community with a low vaccination rate going into winter, you’re at very high risk for severe disease.”

In Spokane County, just 50% of the total population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Many Eastern and Central Washington counties have even lower vaccination rates.

To find a vaccine or a booster dose of a vaccine, visit the state’s vaccine locator or call (833) VAX-HELP.

Here’s a look at local numbers

The Spokane Regional Health District reported 315 new COVID-19 cases and no additional deaths on Wednesday.

There are 145 people hospitalized with the virus in Spokane hospitals.

The Panhandle Health District reported 243 new COVID-19 cases and three additional deaths. There are 1,929 backlogged cases remaining at the district.

There have been 594 deaths due to COVID-19 in Panhandle residents.

There are 156 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.