Is Washington state in another Covid surge?
It seems that almost everyone knows someone who has Covid in Western Washington these days, or has heard of someone who has had it recently. But in this post-pandemic emergency era, how do we know if we're in a surge?
Reductions in community testing mean data on case numbers is no longer reliable. However, Pavitra Roychoudhury is a virologist with UW Medicine and she's been watching numbers that indicate local levels of Covid. Roychoudhury keeps track of local hospitalization counts, as well as virus levels detected in wastewater. These indicate if levels are higher or lower in the area.
“The rates of hospitalizations — that is people who are in the hospital either with Covid or due to Covid — is rising in Washington and other parts of the U.S. So that is certainly indicating that something is going on," Roychoudhury said.
She added that while Covid levels detected in wastewater have also been rising, locally, they may be starting to level off.
Nationally, hospital numbers went up to 20,000 at the start of September, the highest that count has been since March. While it's a recent uptick, it's still a low number when compared to the more than 150,000 hospitalizations that were seen in late 2021 and early 2022.
Data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that hospitalizations in King County went up 8.7% in the week leading up to Sept. 9, to a total of 137 admissions, which the agency considers "low."
The uptick in Covid cases has been anticipated, as UW Medicine virologist Dr. Helen Chu told KUOW's Seattle Now in August.
"It doesn't take much to tip this over the edge, and I anticipate that once schools start and the weather gets colder, and people start gathering in doors, and all of the other viruses come back, those hospitalization numbers will start to go up," Chu said at the time.
Last week, state officials warned that Covid, RSV, and flu combined are expected to cause a surge in infections this fall and winter, but federal projections indicate it won't be as bad as levels seen in the 2021 season.
State epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist recently noted that, “We’ve got a lot of new tools this season,” including new treatments and vaccines for each of these viruses.
Health officials continue to recommend vaccination, masking, and testing to help prevent severe Covid outcomes and to protect against long Covid.
“Concerns remain that an increase in cases from all, or one, of these respiratory viruses will lead to challenges in our communities and our health care system,” Washington's secretary of health Dr. Umair Shah recently said. "We want people to take the precautions now because that's going to help our health care system.”
Dyer Oxley contributed to this report.