COVID Weekly Report for Jan. 19, 2021: National numbers decline, state vaccination plan retooled to meet federal guidelines.

This week’s coronavirus news is topped by ambitious vaccine distribution plans at all levels, and the spread of four distinct new viral variants, at least one of which has been identified in 20 states including Oregon, our neighbor to the south.

Scientists continue to maintain that while more contagious, these strains do not appear to cause more severe cases of COVID nor do they show increased resistance to the current vaccines. More information on the variants is available in this article from CNN.

On the bright side, Johns Hopkins University reports an 11% drop in new cases nationwide from last week’s peak, driven by declining numbers in 35 states – including Washington. Experts continue to stress the need to remain vigilant, as it is too soon to tell if this is the beginning of a trend or an isolated aberration.

Here in Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday an updated vaccine distribution and administrative plan aimed at increasing the number of Washingtonians receiving the vaccine. Inslee’s goal is to ramp up to an ambitious 45,000 vaccinations per day, a pace which could see all 7.7 million Washington residents able to be vaccinated by mid-year.

To keep citizens informed, the Department of Heath Tuesday added vaccination information to its COVID-19 Data Dashboard in a new tab located to the far right.

In its first iteration, the new tab provides the number of doses given statewide in a map view or by date, and aims to provide county level data soon. For the state level, the number of doses delivered to providers and the number of doses delivered through the federal long-term care program are also provided, in addition to the population percentage and both the number of people who have received at least one dose of vaccine and who have completed the recommended number of doses in each county and the state.

“We are excited to be sharing this crucial tool to track our vaccine growth to date,” said Michele Roberts, one of the Department of Health leaders for the vaccine rollout. “We are making steady progress on the number of vaccines administered each day. This dashboard will help create transparency around Washington’s progress.”

Additional information on the new vaccination dashboard is available here.

We will henceforth include this information in the Washington State Situation section of our weekly report to you.

Other changes to the state plan include retooling to conform to new federal guidelines, including lowering the phase 1b eligibility age to 65 from the initial 70.  Plans include making vaccinations available to this group immediately, setting up additional vaccination sites, and partnering with various private, non-profit and governmental agencies in a team effort to achieve the 45,000 daily dose goal. More information is available in our earlier story here.

Use the state’s phase finder tool at findyourphasewa.org to determine your eligibility. Once you become eligible, appointments at the various clinics can be set up at the appointment booking website.

But there are still wrinkles to be ironed out. As of Tuesday, all available vaccination appointments at the state sites for this week have been filled, and there is no firm word on when additional slots will open up.

“At this time the appointments are booked,” said the Snohomish Health District’s Kari Bray in an email to the My Neighborhood News Network. “More will be added as vaccine doses are available, and people can check back at those same webpages for new appointments.”

Bray added that she has no certain date when more appointments will be available, and that in the meantime she encourages people to “contact their regular healthcare provider, clinic or pharmacy to see if they are offering COVID vaccinations.”

In other developments, the new public health measures outlined in Gov. Inslee’s Healthy Washington plan continue. The plan divides the state into multi-county regions, all of which were initially in Phase 1, the most restrictive category. Unlike the former Safe Start program, these groups do not need to apply to advance to a less restrictive stage – this is now determined by data collected and compiled by the State Department of Health. As of this week, no region qualified to move to Phase 2. Details of how the guidelines apply to various businesses and other groups are available here.  See more in the Washington State Situation section of this report below.

To help you, our readers, stay updated on the continuing battle with the pandemic, here once again are the latest numbers, charts, and statistics from the world to our own backyards.

The world and national situation:

This week’s global COVID case count as reported by Johns Hopkins University shows more than 4 million additional cases, pushing the count since the start of the pandemic a year ago to just shy of 96 million. Worldwide deaths have surpassed the sobering 2 million milestone. The U.S. case count slowed this week, with 1.5 million new cases, an 11% drop, ending the week at 24.1 million cases. The U.S. total now stands at more than 22 million, with just shy of 400,000 deaths. Despite the one-week drop-off, the U.S. continues to lead the world in both these measures.

The U.S. remains in fourth place worldwide in COVID death rates, with 121.05 deaths per 100,000 population, up from 114.94 last week. (Mortality chart from Johns Hopkins University).

Overall trends in the United States since April 1 are summarized in the charts below from the COVID Tracking Project. Note the encouraging one-week decline in new cases.

The Washington state situation:

Statewide the numbers have leveled off slightly this week. The most recent (Jan. 16) state overview from the Washington Department of Health shows the confirmed case count at 277,404, gaining almost 12,000 this week compared to 20,000 the week before. Deaths now stand at 3,903, almost 200 more than last week.

The statewide daily new case count as of Jan. 16 continues to back off from the Dec. 11 high of 4,111 as shown in this chart from DOH. Note that here – as with all DOH charts – the grey bars indicate data that are incomplete and still being tabulated.

The Jan. 14 case rate of 403.0 (cases per 100K population, two-week rolling average) is up slightly due to it being an average of the previous 14 days rather than a daily snapshot. It continues to remain well above the state goal of 25.

Trends in Washington state’s daily hospitalization and death counts continue to predictably lag the case count trends. Hospitalizations are beginning to reflect the early December decline in cases (after the post-Thanksgiving surge), while this has yet to show up in daily death counts. Note that officials are bracing for the expected surge in all three metrics in the wake of the anticipated post-holiday (Christmas and New Years) rise in infections. As above, the grey bars in both charts posted Jan. 16 are based on incomplete data (according to DOH lagging as much as 18 days for hospitalizations and 4-6 weeks for deaths) and are expected to rise as the numbers are finalized.

Testing activity Washington state continues to decline with the passing of the holidays and the high demand for tests that they brought (note the bump in December). Also, the rapid ramp-up in vaccination activity is pulling resources from testing operations. The second chart shows the percentage of positive test results jumping to 17.7% from 17.1% last week, a disturbing trend that suggests the possibility of rising infection rates this spring. Note that these numbers are for molecular (nose swab) tests and do not include blood serum (antibody) tests.

The latest Roadmap To Recovery report shows no change in the phases assigned to each of the various regions across the state, all of which remain in Phase 1.  The map below shows the various multi-county regions within the state, all of which are currently in Phase 1.

Four metrics are considered in determining the phase for each region:

  • A 10% or greater decrease in the rate of COVID cases per 100,000 population in most recent 14-day period measured compared to the prior 14-day period.
  • A 10% or greater decrease in the rate of new COVID hospital admission rates per 100,000 in most recent 14-day period measured compared to the prior 14-day period.
  • Test positivity of less than 10% for the most recent 7-day period measured.
  • Total ICU occupancy of less than 90% for the most recent 7-day period measured.

The table below shows how the various regions currently stack up.

Snohomish County is grouped into the Puget Sound region along with King and Pierce counties.

Based on the latest dashboard update, the Puget Sound Region still isn’t seeing sufficient decreases in hospital admission rates to qualify for Phase 2. The region needs to see a 10% or greater decrease in hospital admission rates per 100,000 when comparing two-week periods. The period from Dec. 27 to Jan. 9 saw only a 3% decrease in hospital admission rates across the region compared to the previous period.

View the complete report here.

Additional details are available in this press release from the Snohomish Health District.

 

The Snohomish County Situation:

The county numbers overview as of Jan. 16 shows total confirmed cases at 25,779, up 1,000 from last week compared to 2,000 the week before, reflecting the overall state trend.

The Jan. 16 Snohomish County daily new case count also reflects this trend, as daily totals fall off from last week. This chart from the Snohomish Health District provides daily numbers for the entire record-keeping period.

Trends in critical county measures through Jan. 19 show a marked increase in recoveries, driving the accompanying decrease in active cases.

The two-week rolling average case rate per 100,000 from the Snohomish Health District is showing a slight decrease. While this reflects the overall drop in new cases nationwide and statewide, bear in mind that this number is a rolling average based on the previous two weeks of data, not a single-day snapshot.

The mortality trend for Snohomish County is showing signs of leveling off from the steep increases of last month.

The local situation in our home cities:

Note:  This week’s data for total cases and recovered cases are taken from the most recent Snohomish Health District Snapshots and Reports web page. Death numbers come from the Health District’s most recent biweekly detailed report. Because these data come from different sources, we have interpolated where necessary for clarity. 

Critical metrics (total cases, recovered cases, deaths, and active cases) for our home cities show a falling rate of increase for total cases, accompanied by a marked upswing in recoveries and a decrease in active cases.

The local numbers summary as of Jan. 19 shows a marked decrease in active COVID cases at all levels (right-hand column), driven by the combination of slowly declining infection rates and an upswing in recoveries.

The data, tables and charts in today’s report come from the following sources:

— By Larry Vogel

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