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COVID-19

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Rural northeast Washington getting hit hard by omicron as reinfections become more common

This electron microscope image made available and color-enhanced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Md., shows Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, orange, isolated from a patient.  (HOGP)
This electron microscope image made available and color-enhanced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Md., shows Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, orange, isolated from a patient. (HOGP)

Omicron is hitting rural Eastern Washington, as case counts in smaller counties are mirroring trends seen in places like Spokane and the Tri-Cities.

The omicron variant makes up nearly 95% of sequenced cases in Washington state, according to the most recent data available from the Department of Health.

Not all rural Eastern Washington counties have detected the variant, but they also don’t have the resources to check for it most of the time. In Spokane County, only up to 8% of tests are being sequenced, and 71 omicron cases have been confirmed. In Stevens County, four omicron cases have been detected.

Health officials said its extreme transmissibility is why case counts have gone up so quickly in recent weeks.

The omicron variant, while said to be more mild, appears primarily in the nose, throat and windpipe rather than deep down in the lungs.

And while that might be a good thing, “It’s also what makes it so infectious because there’s more viral load in that upper airway, and it spreads more easily,” Matt Schanz, administrator of Northeast Tri County Health District, told reporters Friday.

The variant also is leading to reinfections in the northeastern part of the state.

Schanz said about 9% of reported cases in the region are reinfections, which is likely an undercount. That means that prior immunity from COVID, even from the more recent delta variant in some cases, is not always enough to protect people from getting COVID-19 again.

Health officials reiterated that the most reliable form of immunity is vaccination.

Hospital capacity is tight throughout the region, which impacts rural hospitals when trying to transfer patients. Emergency transportation is also a strain, Tri-County Health Officer Dr. Sam Artzis said.

“We are not going to see the end of this for the next few weeks,” Artzis told reporters Friday. And even after that peak, he suspects that hospitals will be dealing with delayed surgeries and procedures for many months, on top of typical non-COVID health care .

Here’s a look at local numbers

The Spokane Regional Health District reported 1,551 new COVID cases and no additional deaths on Friday.

There are now 208 patients hospitalized with the virus in Spokane .

The Panhandle Health District reported 284 new COVID-19 cases and 19 additional deaths. There are still 4,750 backlogged cases.

There have been 841 deaths due to COVID-19 in Panhandle residents.

There are 100 Panhandle residents hospitalized, and Kootenai Health is treating 99 patients 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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