Masks recommended due to rising COVID infections

— Created August 4, 2021 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Thanks to the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus, even those who have been vaccinated have not seen the last of face masks and kids and teachers heading back to school will also have to don the protective apparel.

In a press conference last week, Gov. Jay Inslee announced all teachers and students will be required to wear face coverings inside when they head back to the classroom, in accordance with CDC guidelines for schools. In addition, Inslee has asked all Washington residents, regardless of their vaccination status, to consider wearing masks while indoor public spaces.

The push to continue to wear masks is being prompted by a declining number of new vaccinations and a rapid rise in the number of COVID cases across the state, including Island County. The Delta variant is believed to be the cause of the increase.

“The state of Washington is at risk because of the rising cases of COVID and the Delta variant that is so dangerous,” Inslee said last week. “We know that progress has been slowed because of the Delta variant and we know we have to remain vigilant, primarily because not enough people have been vaccinated.”

Inslee said the state appears to be entering a “fifth wave” of infections.

“Whatever you call it, these numbers are going up dramatically, and that is most concerning,” he said. “We know the dominant variant today is the Delta variant. It is twice as infectious, it is more likely to cause serious illness, and it is easily the most dangerous variant to date of this virus.”

The governor said the Delta variant is so different from previous variants, it could almost be considered a new virus. The key to beating this variant, he said, remains vaccination.

“We would have liked to have thought that when we reached this level of vaccination, that we would have blunted this virus,” Inslee said. “But the mutations that have occurred with this virus are significantly more infectious. That makes it very clear to us there is one way out of this pandemic, and that is more vaccinations.”

Health department data shows that while 70 percent of eligible residents have been vaccinated in Washington, vaccination rates vary widely from county to county. As of last week in Island County, for example, the percentage of people who had initiated vaccination (received at least the first dose) was 61.2 percent. Island County commissioners, in the regular commission meeting last week, discussed the vaccination rate and shared some of their concerns over the rise of local cases.

“The state talks about 70 percent as a goal,” said commissioner Janet St. Clair. “In my opinion…just knowing the little bit I do, that’s a laudable goal, but that doesn’t get us to this mythical ‘herd immunity,’ it’s just a laudable goal to try to get 70 percent of our population vaccinated. The reason I make this point is, we are not safe at 61 percent, we’re not even really, truly safe at 70 percent.”

Following the meeting, Island County commissioners issued a statement saying the county will continue to follow the masking guidelines issued by the state Department of Health and the department of Labor and Industries. That means the county recommends those who are vaccinated wear face coverings in public indoor settings – it is not a mandate. Those who are unvaccinated MUST wear a mask in public indoor settings. Masks are still required for everyone at hospitals, doctor offices, long term care facilities, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, schools, child care centers and day camps and on public transportation. Businesses are allowed set their own mask requirements.

According to the CDC, 96 percent of hospitalizations due to COVID are among the unvaccinated population. At WhidbeyHealth Medical Center, the overall number of inpatients declined over the previous week, and 13 percent of those currently hospitalized as of Monday afternoon had a COVID-related illness.

“While we have a lower inpatient percentage of COVID-related ill patients, the number of COVID swab tests from patients presenting in our Emergency Department (on their own or via EMS transportation) is continuing to rise,” said Conor O’Brien, WhidbeyHealth marketing manager. “WhidbeyHealth believes and is preparing for a full wave of the Delta variant of COVID-19. While we have not performed any epidemiological studies of Island County or our Island population, we are seeing that the people getting sick are the unvaccinated.”

As cases continue to rise, local medical officials are urging people to get vaccinated.

“While many social restrictions have been lifted in the past few weeks, our county’s case rates per 100,000 have increased to near pandemic levels again,” O’Brien said. “We would be delighted to have all of Island County vaccinated, but understand that some in our community have decided not to do so. Again, WhidbeyHealth is strongly encouraging everyone 12+ years old to be vaccinated.”

 Island County Public Health said there are plenty of appointments available at vaccination providers. Plus, the county will be offering free vaccinations at upcoming community events like the Coupeville Arts and Crafts Festival, the Coupeville Lions annual garage sale and the Oak Harbor Music Festival.

“We will continue any outreach that helps us reach unvaccinated people with information they need to make a decision to get vaccinated,” Don Mason, Island County Public Health COVID manager, said at the commissioners’ meeting. “If you want a vaccination, we will make that happen for you. We will come to you, we’ll set up an appointment for you, you can do walk-in just about everywhere.”

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