Pandemic updates: Covid case counts on the rise in Seattle-area schools
Updated news about the coronavirus pandemic in Seattle and Washington state.
As of Friday, April 1, 2022, the King County and Washington state departments of health report:
- Cases/hospitalizations/deaths: Covid cases have risen 51% in King County over the last seven days, with a daily average of 281 new cases. The average number of hospitalizations in King County has remained the same (three hospitalizations per day) within the past week. Covid deaths have declined by 38% over the past week in King County, with an average of two people dying each day.
- Vaccination: 84.6% of eligible King County residents are fully vaccinated; 71.6% of eligible Washingtonians have been fully vaccinated; 58.2% of eligible Washingtonians have received a booster shot.
- 1% death rate since the beginning of the pandemic.
- 44 Covid cases per 100,000 people across Washington state.
Seattle-area schools seeing increase in Covid cases and outbreaks
As Covid rates increase in Western Washington, schools are seeing more cases too. Case counts are still low in schools compared to the height of the Omicron variant, but they doubled in Seattle and Tacoma School Districts last week compared to the previous week.
That’s a similar trend to the increase seen in both King and Pierce counties last week: twice as many people testing positive as the week before.
Public Health Seattle-King County spokesperson Gabe Spitzer said the agency has seen an increase in school outbreaks in the past two weeks, “especially among elementary-aged children and in connection with higher risk activities," like sports, singing, eating together, and other close-contact activities.
"Other risk factors included suspected poor ventilation, combining cohorts, and attendance while contagious," Spitzer said.
It's unclear whether the end of the mandatory mask policy in most county schools on March 14th contributed to the spread, Spitzer said. "There are a number of factors at work, including changing behaviors in the community and the spread of BA.2 as well as local and state policy changes."
Spring break starts in Seattle Public Schools next week, and the district has a plan to prevent students from bringing Covid back to school: It’s sending each student home with a Covid test kit to take within 24 hours before returning to school from break.
The district says it’s ready to require masks again if there’s a new surge in cases - in a school, or district-wide.
- — Ann Dornfeld
Covid-19 infection increases your risk for diabetes, a new study says
People who suffered from even mild cases of Covid-19 face an increased risk of being diagnosed with diabetes within a year of recovering from the illness, a new study reports.
Researchers found that people who had Covid-19 were about 40% more likely to develop diabetes within a year after recovering, compared to participants in a control group. The likelihood of developing diabetes grew if the patient suffered from a serious infection that led to hospitalization or a stay in intensive care.
"What's surprising is that it is happening in people with no prior risk factors for diabetes" before becoming infected with Covid-19, said Ziyad Al-Aly, the lead author of the study.
These latest findings add to a growing list of studies showing that people who suffered from Covid-19 are at risk of facing other long-term health problems. Those include heart and kidney ailments and chronic fatigue.
Al-Aly also helped lead the study that showed the prevalence of cardiac issues in people who survived Covid-19 infections.
This newest study, published Monday in the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal, analyzed data from more than 180,000 patients from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The study's authors compared patients who tested positive for Covid-19 and survived the illness for more than a month with more than 4 million other people who didn't contract Covid in the same period. This data was also compared with another 4.28 million patients who were treated at the VA in 2018 and 2019.
The paper states that around 1% to 2% of people who have been infected with Covid will develop diabetes as a result. That may seem like a small number, but nearly 80 million people in the U.S. have had Covid, Al-Aly told NPR — meaning 800,000 to 1.6 million people developing diabetes who might not have otherwise.
Read more here.
—Jaclyn Diaz, NPR
Coronavirus FAQ: Our mini-zine has advice on when & how to dial down Covid precautions
I live in a place where case counts are dropping. I know they could go back up again, but in the meantime, what Covid precautions are advisable (if any) and what precautions can be put on hold?
First things first: The pandemic isn't over. The current surge in Hong Kong, for instance, has produced the highest reported death rate over the past two-plus years of Covid. And the U.S. still has 700 Covid deaths a day — far fewer than a couple of weeks ago but still a staggering and tragic count.
And the highly transmissible variant omicron BA.2 that's causing surges in some countries is now the dominant variant in the U.S. and could bring a surge.
But for the vaccinated and boosted in places where numbers are trending downward, times have changed — at least for the moment. Mandatory and even voluntary mask-wearing is on the wane. (If you don't believe me, come to my neighborhood coffee shop where half the servers and customers are masked and half aren't.)
If you're fortunate enough to live and work in a community where numbers are dropping, it is indeed an appropriate moment to assess your own risks and the risks of those in your inner circle. And then perhaps adjust your personal precautions.
As Dr. Preeti Malani puts it, you might decide to "dial it down" precaution-wise but also be prepared to "dial it up" if things change. She's an infectious disease doctor and the chief health officer at the University of Michigan.
For example, if you've only been an outdoor diner at restaurants, you might weigh going indoors, Malani says — keeping in mind that there are ways to minimize any potential Covid exposure.
Read more here.
—Marc Silver, NPR
Covid case counts are ticking up slightly in some parts of western Washington
King County has seen a 42% increase over the past week, but the numbers are far lower than what we saw during the winter surge. Back then, the county averaged more than 6,000 new cases a day. Now it’s down to approximately 250. Hospitalizations also remain low with about three new ones per day.
Pierce County is also seeing a slight increase with more outbreaks in long-term care facilities and businesses. Health officials say there was a 38% increase in the number of cases reported among businesses and long-term care facilities from last week. There were also three outbreaks in area schools.
But statewide, overall, Covid numbers continue to decline.
Health officials say this new data shows we still need to follow the best public health practices and stay up to date on vaccinations.
— Angela King
Covid disparities persist for Black Americans. But there are lessons for the future
Two years into the pandemic, Black people in the U.S. still face wide health disparities in the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the economic and social fallouts, compared to other racial groups.
The new report from the Black Coalition Against Covid comes as hospitalization rates for Black Americans were recently the highest they've been since the pandemic's start.
"As we reflect on two years of lived experience and myriad data sources, we know Covid-19's toll on Black Americans is ongoing," Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the director of the Office for Health Equity Research at Yale University, said.
"This report draws attention to the continued disproportionate burden experienced by members of the Black community and will help guide advocacy and policy efforts to address these inequities — both during the current pandemic and beyond," she said.
The Black Coalition Against Covid commissioned the report along with the Equity Research and Innovation Center at Yale School of Medicine, and the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine.
"We hope to bring attention to the continued burden of Covid-19 in the Black community, even as we as a nation have made incredible progress overall. Even as we celebrate achievements towards COVID-19 equity, we know there is more work to do," the groups said in the report.
The physical and mental heath disparities are significant
The report points to several disparities Black Americans faced in the pandemic's early years, including access to vaccines and booster shots. More recently, though, inequities are emerging around the long-term effects of Covid for Black people.
"Solutions are needed to increase equitable and affordable access to Long Covid care and supportive resources. Efforts are also needed to ensure inclusion of Black Americans in Long Covid trials, treatment programs, and registries," the report says.
Read more here.
— Deepa Shivaram, NPR
Ivermectin does not prevent Covid-19 hospitalization, a new study says
The anti-parasitic ivermectin doesn't reduce the risk of hospitalization from Covid-19, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Ivermectin serves as more evidence for what health professionals have been saying for much of the pandemic: the cow and horse de-wormer shouldn't be used to treat Covid.
In the large study, researchers in Brazil studied more than 1,300 patients, half of which received ivermectin and the other half a placebo.
In their conclusion, the authors said, "Treatment with ivermectin did not result in a lower incidence of medical admission to a hospital due to progression of Covid-19 or of prolonged emergency department observation among outpatients with an early diagnosis of Covid-19."
There have already been some clinical trials done earlier in the pandemic that showed ivermectin is not effective against Covid-19.
The Food and Drug Administration has strongly urged against using the animal version of ivermectin to fight Covid-19, warning it can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, neurologic disorders and potentially severe hepatitis requiring hospitalization.
This warning hasn't stopped the drug's popularity with some people seeking to treat Covid.
Popular podcaster Joe Rogan said he used the drug to treat his Covid-19 infection. He said at the time that his treatments also included monoclonal antibodies, Z-pack antibiotics and a vitamin drip for "three days in a row."
This drug has was even administered to inmates in Arkansas.
— Jaclyn Diaz, NPR
Covid rates remain low in Seattle-area schools after masks come off
There’s been no jump in Covid cases at Seattle-area schools since masks became optional two weeks ago.
When the statewide mask mandate lifted on March 11, many families and staff were relieved. Others predicted a spike in the number of Covid cases due to masklessness.
So far, that increase in cases hasn’t materialized. In Seattle Public Schools, there were 62 reported cases the week before the rule change, 67 the week masks came off, and 68 reported cases last week.
Cases are also remaining low in surrounding districts. That was the outcome public health officials predicted when they let students and staff lose the masks - that enough of them had been vaccinated, or been temporarily immunized by getting the Omicron variant, to prevent major outbreaks for a while.
Of course, waning immunity from vaccines and Omicron infections means that could change, especially as new variants sweep through.
If that happens, public health officials warn, the masks may be required once again.
— Ann Dornfeld
Covid cases and hospitalizations ticking up in King County
According to the latest information from Public Health Seattle-King County, Covid cases have risen by 26% over the past week in the county (average of 213 daily cases). Hospitalizations have gone up 58%, which amounts to an average of five people being hospitalized with Covid each day.
Average deaths from Covid remain on the decline, with numbers decreasing 42% — there at two Covid deaths, on average, each day in King County.
A total of 85% of King County residents age 5 and older are fully vaccinated. A total of 65% of King County's eligible residents have received a booster shot.
— Dyer Oxley
FDA, CDC approves second booster dose of Covid vaccine for certain people
On Tuesday, the FDA approved a second booster dose of a Covid vaccine for people above the age of 50, and for younger immunocompromised individuals.
- People above the age of 50 should get a second booster shot four months after the first booster dose of an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna).
- For the Pfizer vaccine, ages 12 or older who have had organ transplants or who are immunocompromised should get a second booster four months after the first dose.
- For the Moderna vaccine, a second booster is recommended four months after the first dose for ages 18 and older who are immunocompromised.
— Dyer Oxley
BA.2 is now the most common coronavirus variant in the United States
Omicron's more-contagious relative, BA.2, is now the most common coronavirus variant in the United States.
NPR reports that 54.9% of Covid infections nationwide are from BA.2. It is more common in some areas than others. In the northeast, it adds up to about 70% of cases.
— Dyer Oxley
UW expects spring Covid case uptick; recommends masks even if it's not required
An email sent from Dr. Geoffrey Gottlieb to University of Washington staff and students states that while masks are not required on campus,
"Though we are following federal, state and local health guidance by making masks optional inside most UW facilities starting today — masks continue to be strongly recommended the first two weeks of the quarter, and we continue to recommend them, especially for those at higher risk, for the remainder of the spring. Exceptions are health-care settings, UW shuttles, and returning to campus after isolation and quarantine where masks continue to be required indoors for all."
Dr. Gottlieb further notes that UW has noticed Covid cases spiking at the start of every quarter, and they expect the same for the spring quarter.
— Dyer Oxley
What vaccinated individuals can expect from Omicron BA.2
Omicron and its relative BA.2 spread much faster than the original strain of the coronavirus and are prompting upticks in cases globally.
Dr. Robert Quigley, an infectious disease expert, recently told Deseret News that vaccinated individuals will likely experience mild or moderate illness from Omicron. However, it should be noted that vulnerable people, or people with compromising health conditions, are at much higher risk, even if they are vaccinated.
CBS reports that wastewater testing in the United States indicates that the virus is on the rise again. Dr. Celine Grounder told CBS News that symptoms for BA.2 or Omicron may seem mild for some vaccinated individuals, almost like having allergies (runny nose, cough, sore throat). Experts stress that people should take a home test, to make sure, if they are questioning their symptoms at all.
The latest coronavirus variants is causing surges in other parts of the world. In Shanghai, China, the government has implemented its strongest lockdown in two years because of this latest wave.
— Dyer Oxley
UW Medicine knows why hybrid immunity is so strong against Covid
Researchers with the University of Washington School of Medicine have found further evidence that hybrid immunity offers some of the strongest responses to Covid-19.
In short: infection plus vaccination works really well against Covid.
“Vaccines alone work incredibly well at protecting against disease; they just don’t generate as diverse an immune response as does infection followed by vaccination,” said Marion Pepper, associate professor in the UW Department of Immunology.
According to a statement from UW Medicine, it has previously been known that hybrid immunity offers robust protection against the coronavirus. Researchers were trying to find out why. They concluded that previously infected patients who received a vaccine produced more memory B cells. those are important for making antibodies to fight off infection. The hybrid immunity was able to generate a wider range of antibodies. These antibodies not only worked against the original strain, but also variants.
“Even if their first infection was caused by the earliest strain, the Wuhan strain, and the vaccine they received was based on that strain, people with hybrid immunity were capable of generating neutralizing antibodies against every variant we threw at them,” Pepper said.
There are a few potential reasons for this, but researchers are pointing to time as a key factor. People who were infected with Covid had to wait a year until they got vaccinated, giving their bodies time to ramp up against new infections. Whereas vaccinated patients received new doses within weeks, "giving the immune system far less time to refine its response," according to UW Medicine.
The study was recently published in the journal Cell.
— Dyer Oxley
UW finds BA.2 variant in 1/4 of Covid tests
The University of Washington School of Medicine is reporting that the BA.2 subvariant is showing up in about a quarter of all Covid tests it runs.
BA.2 is a subvariant of the highly-contagious omicron variant (BA.1). BA.2 spreads more easily than its predecessor. It has been called "stealth omicron" as it previously was difficult to distinguish this variant from the Delta variant. However, since omicron has taken over, it is easier to spot.
“It's been sort of slowly creeping up over the last six weeks,” said Dr. Alex Greninger, the virology lab’s assistant director and an assistant professor of lab medicine and pathology at the UW School of Medicine in Seattle.
Some experts believe that BA.2 is en route to becoming the dominant strain in the United States. It has already caused a surge of cases in Europe and China. The U.S. is usually a couple weeks behind Covid waves overseas. It is unclear if a domestic surge is around the corner.
"I think – go travel now. There’s a great time here where there's a short window," Greninger said. "But it's going to be interesting to see what the end of April, beginning of May, what that time period will look like."
BA.2 partially evades vaccine protection, however it is expected that, like BA.1, vaccines will offer some protection, especially against severe disease and hospitalization.
— Dyer Oxley
Covid outbreaks at two Washington state prisons
Two Washington prisons east of the Cascades have been dealing with Covid-19 outbreaks. Many prisoners are being restricted to their cells to reduce transmission.
Almost 20% of the 1,800 inmates at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center outside of Connell, Wash. are infected with Covid. So far, three of its 12 living units are in "restricted movement status."
At the State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, officials are restricting prisoners movements in two of its 13 living units.
“Even with perfect protocol, full circle, I mean you can’t see what it is that we’re dealing with," said Don Holbrook with the Washington State Department of Corrections. "But at the end of the day our protocols are to protect people.”
Holbrook says all 12 of the state’s facilities have had elevated Covid cases over the past two years.
— Anna King
Seattle Public School students walk out in protest of masks becoming optional
Over 150 Seattle Public School students walked out of classes today to demand that the mask mandate be reinstated.
High school students gathered for an hour in front of the school district’s headquarters. Students cheered and chanted.
Seattle Public School Students Walkout chant.mp3
"What do we want.... Mask Mandates... when do we want it.... Now"
Students took turns sharing personal stories about loved ones getting sick and sometimes losing them.
Others, like Center School sophomore Luna Crone-Barón, voiced concerns about the risk of spreading Covid-19 to people who are immunocompromised.
"I'm here today because I have a dad who survived cancer and who is therefore immunocompromised. It is not fair that me and my 8-year-old brother are putting him at risk every day just by going to school."
The Seattle Student Union, which represents students across the district, organized the walkout. The group is asking for the mandate to continue at least through the two weeks following spring break.
Seattle Public Schools said in a statement that the district would "continue to prioritize health and safety" and that "we strongly encourage our students, staff, and visitors to wear masks. "
— Natalie Newcomb
Seattle students and teachers plan to protest lifting of district's mask mandate
Members of the Seattle Student Union plan to hold a walkout and rally outside the district headquarters at noon Monday, March 21.
They're protesting the district's decision, last week, to lift the indoor mask mandate. The Seattle Education Association also held a similar demonstration last week.
Union leadership said it wanted more time to prepare for the change and accused district leaders of violating a memorandum of understanding between the two sides.
The Seattle Education Association, the union for educators, issued a statement on Twitter noting that it was “deeply disappointed” in the decision to drop the mask mandate and that school officials had “unilaterally implemented this change,” violating the district’s contract with teachers.
In an email, Seattle Public Schools Superintendent of Public Affairs Bev Redmond said the district had discussed the change with Seattle Education Association leadership, who “expressed understanding of this potential change and a willingness to work together to bargain the impacts of the district's decision.”
— Angela King
Student athletes and myocarditis
The American College of Cardiology is now advising that student athletes between the ages of 14-25, who have had a case of Covid but do not have resulting cardiac symptoms, do not need to be screened for myocarditis.
Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart as a result of an infection and can be more likely after a case of Covid.
Dr. Kimberly Harmon is section head of sports medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine. She was on the ACC panel that is making the recommendation about student athletes.
“Large registry-based studies showed that the incidence of cardiac issues was not nearly as high as initially feared and that diagnostic testing should be based by symptoms,” Harmon said. “If people have chest pain during their infection or upon return to play, then they should have a diagnostic workup, but aside from that, they should have a gradual return to exercise.”
According to UW Medicine, there were smaller studies that occurred early in the pandemic that indicated up to 50% of athletes had the potential of experiencing myocarditis after a Covid infection. But researchers have now looked at accumulated data from across the United States.
"Our registry showed that 0.5% to 1% of athletes developed Covid-associated myocarditis — which is still something we need to pay attention to, but it is far less than 50%. And most of the athletes with myocarditis had cardiac symptoms,” Harmon said.
— Dyer Oxley
Canada eases up on one restriction for international travelers
Starting April 1, Canada will no longer require international travelers to show a negative Covid test before entering the country, if they are fully vaccinated.
Travelers who are unvaccinated, or partially vaccinated, will still need to show a negative Covid test to enter the country.
Also, arriving travelers will still be required to use Canada's ArriveCAN app.
"Adjustments to Canada's border measures are made possible by a number of factors, including Canada's high vaccination rate, the increasing availability and use of rapid tests to detect infection, decreasing hospitalizations and growing domestic availability of treatments for Covid-19," said the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Health. "As vaccination levels and healthcare system capacity improve, we will continue to consider further easing of measures at the borders-and when to adjust those measures-to keep the people in Canada safe."
— Dyer Oxley
Another Covid wave could be ahead
Covid cases have dropped significantly over the past month, but Dr. Anthony Fauci is warning that cases could spike again very soon, or at least the decline will flatten out, Bloomberg reports.
This is largely due to the fact that the United States has generally follow trends overseas, usually with a two-week delay. The United Kingdom has been experiencing a rise in cases due to the subvariant of omicron. China is currently experiencing its highest levels of Covid cases since the pandemic began.
Dr. Fauci also said that some Americans — those over 65 or with underlying health conditions — will likely need a fourth shot of a Covid vaccine.
— Dyer Oxley