cases rising again, health officer says consider masking up
SNOHOMISH COUNTY — “It is time to raise our guard again” on the coronavirus and use masks more, the county’s health officer recommended during a call with reporters last week.
COVID-19 infection cases are increasing in Snohomish County. Meanwhile, experts note an offshoot mutation of the Omicron variant — a subvariant named Omicron BA.2.12.1 — is beginning to spread, and this one appears to be more resilient to vaccines.
“I also urge us to put our masks back on in indoor public spaces and any outdoor spaces where distancing isn’t possible,” health officer Dr. Chris Spitters said during the call. “You can wear them by choice and they are an effective tool for disrupting transmission” of COVID-19.
He also said to stay current on vaccinations, and to consider taking indoor gatherings outside.
A little over half the people in the county who are eligible for a booster vaccination shot have one.
Case counts are increasing again above the levels seen last summer when the Delta variant spread.
Spitters described that a new wave is forming. He is suggesting masking up to try to head it off.
“Although we may be in a new phase of the pandemic, we are not rid of COVID,” Spitters said.
There were 2,819 new infections logged during the last week of April. The case rate was 336 infections per 100,000 people. During March, this rate was below 100 per 100,000 people.
Plus, hospitalizations have doubled. COVID-19 cases were using up to 5 percent of hospital beds, county health district data showed.
Masks became optional March 11.
The state government's decision was because infections by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus have fallen, and unlike past waves, so far no other variant had stepped in to overtake it.
Masks were temporarily lifted in 2021, too. When Delta spread, it prompted government officials to reinstate the mask mandate.
Today, cases in the Pacific Northwest are predominantly being caused by a sister variant to the original Omicron, a variant called Omicron BA.2. This first arrived in this state in January. By March, BA.2 overtook the original Omicron, called BA.1, to become the predominant strain circulating, state Department of Health data shows.
An offshoot mutation to BA.2, called Omicron BA.2.12.1, was first detected in the state in March.
Notably, this BA.2.12.1 offshoot mutation is more able to “escape antibodies” the body produces to fight an Omicron infection, a group of lab and university scientists based in Beijing said in a May 2 scientific paper.
Two other Omicron mutations, BA.4 and BA.5, are even better at evading, the scientists reported.
“The continuous evolution of Omicron poses great challenges to (COVID-19) herd immunity and suggests that (original Omicron) BA.1-derived vaccine boosters may not be ideal for achieving broad-spectrum protection,” according to their research paper’s abstract.
The BA.2.12.1 offshoot was quickly spreading along the East Coast as of late April — more than 60% in New York state alone — albeit 12% of coronavirus cases in the northwest are this offshoot, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show.
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