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caption: A sign on the door of Mercury Coffee in Bellevue gives customers the option of nixing their masks if they are fully vaccinated.
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A sign on the door of Mercury Coffee in Bellevue gives customers the option of nixing their masks if they are fully vaccinated.
Credit: Dyer Oxley / KUOW

A reality check on breakthrough Covid cases in Washington

Emily Griffin was ready to get back to work as a DJ in Seattle as vaccination rates increased and Washington state fully reopened.

But then she started hearing about people she knew, fully vaccinated people, coming down with Covid. Breakthrough cases made her think twice.

"Once opening weekend happened and I saw how busy it got," Emily told KUOW's Seattle Now. "Knowing and loving club culture and knowing that it is all about getting in there together and getting sweaty together, I just decided that I wasn't ready and I cancelled my gigs."

LISTEN: 'Breakthrough Covid' and your breakout summer

Emily is not alone. Many may feel extra cautious upon hearing of breakthrough cases, especially as more contagious variants of the coronavirus continue to spread. The good news is that all three Covid vaccines in the United States are effective against the variants, so far.

"We are on the way out of this," Dr. Angie Rasmussen told Seattle Now. "It's just that we are not quite there yet. There are going to be enough people who think that we are, that those of use who are concerned have good reason to be, and we can take precautions to keep ourselves and communities as safe as possible."

Dr. Rasmussen is a virologist with the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) at the University of Saskatchewan. Even an expert like her is still being cautious in crowded indoor areas by keeping her mask on. She recommends maintaining some caution over the summer in more risky settings.

"I think that (going outdoors) is something people can do. They can feel a little bit more carefree than they did last year. It's disappointing that it's not going to be the hot vax summer that I think a lot of people have been wanting."

Dr. Rasmussen says that the United States will not likely see large waves of new Covid cases like it did last winter. Instead, it will experience regional surges, similar to what is happening in Missouri and Arkansas where the vaccination rate is much lower than other parts of the country.

She also says that people should be prepared to hear anecdotal stories of fully vaccinated people catching Covid, yet understand the nuance around those stories.

"I think a lot of people think of vaccines as shields, these impenetrable walls that the virus is not suppose to get across, but the reality is a little more complicated than that," Dr. Rasmussen said.

"There will be breakthrough infections. The thing to watch and the thing to be concerned about is how many of those breakthrough infections are people who are ending up in the hospital; how many are getting really, really sick? In that sense, people should not be really worried about it."

caption: Breakthrough cases among fully vaccinated people in Washington as of July 10 2021. 
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Breakthrough cases in Washington state

Between Jan. 17 and July 10, 2021, Washington state's health department documented 2,925 breakthrough cases in fully vaccinated people. About 4.28 million people are fully vaccinated in Washington state. Breakthrough cases amount to .068% of vaccinated people in Washington.

  • 81% of breakthrough cases in Washington had symptoms.
  • 9% were hospitalized.
  • 45 fully vaccinated people died of a Covid-related illness. Of those 45 people who passed away, 31 had one or more underlying conditions, and 27 were associated with a long-term care facility.

On Wednesday morning, DOH reported that 70% of people aged 16 and older have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine in Washington.

A previous version of this article stated that 70% of Washingtonians age 16 and older were fully vaccinated. It has been updated to reflect that 70% of Washingtonians age 16 and older have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine.