Coronavirus trends are showing some improvement in Yakima County, but the transmission rate and death totals remain high.
Health officials are encouraging people to get vaccinated, wear masks and follow other public recommendations as seasonal respiratory viruses, like the flu, begin to appear.
COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations in Yakima County are down from recent highs, but death totals continue to be high. The 14-day case rate had fallen to 513 per 100,000 as of Friday, according to the Yakima Health District. The case rate hit highs of more than 1,000 last month.
The community’s positive test percentage has decreased, another good sign. The positive test percentage at the Yakima testing site was 14.7% from Sept. 30 to Oct. 7, according to Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital. The county’s positive test percentage was higher than 20% in early September.
Hospitalizations are also trending downward. The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations decreased in early October, when 30-35 people were hospitalized in the county, according to health district data. The numbers increased slightly in recent days, with 39 people hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Oct. 14.
These trends are similar across the state. COVID-19 case numbers are decreasing statewide and across all age groups, Washington state Department of Health’s Lacy Fehrenbach said Wednesday. She is the deputy secretary for the state’s COVID-19 response.
She said hospitalizations are decreasing statewide.
“We’re encouraged that we’re going the right direction, but we have a long way to go to get through this delta wave and prepare for the winter respiratory virus season,” she said.
Death counts from COVID-19 have been increasing in Yakima County since July. The county recorded the highest number of monthly deaths since the start of the pandemic in September, according to a new breakdown of data provided by the health district.
The Yakima County trend report, which will be updated each Monday, reported 45 COVID-19 deaths in the month of September. That is about twice the number of deaths reported during the previous peak for cases, hospitalizations and deaths in January 2021.
“We reported that September this year did have the highest deaths reported due to COVID-19,” health district spokesperson Stephanie Badillo-Sanchez said.
As of Friday, Yakima County had 24 COVID deaths in October, putting it on track to match or surpass the September record. The county has reported a total of 548 deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.
Breakthrough cases make up about 6.5% of COVID-19 cases in Yakima County, according to the weekly trend report. About 1,740 breakthrough cases have been reported out of the total of 26,722 cases from Jan. 1 through Oct. 11 of this year.
The highest number of breakthrough cases are occurring in ages 40 to 49, the report said.
Badillo-Sanchez said breakthrough cases are expected as more people become vaccinated and as the delta virus continues to spread.
“It’s not that the vaccines are not working,” she said. “It’s just that we’re dealing with a new virus, as well, with the delta virus.”
The risk of infection, hospitalization and death are much lower in people vaccinated against COVID-19, but some vaccinated people can still be infected by the virus. This includes the delta variant, which is more contagious than previous variants.
The shot offers some protection for vaccinated individuals who become infected. There is evidence that illness may be less severe for people who are vaccinated and still get sick, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Unvaccinated people remain the greatest concern, Badillo-Sanchez said.
About 85% of all Yakima County COVID-19 cases in September were in unvaccinated people, according to the health district trend data. Unvaccinated people accounted for 84% of all COVID-19 hospitalizations in September, it said.
“It’s definitely important for all of us to continue on with getting vaccinated and following public health recommendations,” Badillo-Sanchez said.
Vaccines, booster shots
About 61% of the population 12 years and older in Yakima County is fully vaccinated. About 69% of the population 12 and older has received at least one dose. Those rates are slightly lower than state levels.
Statewide, 69% of the same population is fully vaccinated and 75% of the population has received at least one dose.
Washington state is requiring vaccines for health care workers and long-term care center workers, state employees and employees in educational settings. Workers who qualify are required to be fully vaccinated by Monday. That deadline won’t be pushed, Gov. Jay Inslee said at a news conference Thursday.
In the same news conference, Inslee announced a vaccine verification requirement for large events, effective Nov. 15.
COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots are available at community vaccination clinics and a variety of local providers. The health district’s mobile vaccine teams are administering between 70 and 110 doses per day, Badillo-Sanchez said. The number of boosters administered was not immediately available.
Booster shots are available for people 65 and older, and for people 18 and older who have underlying medical conditions, work in high-risk settings or live in a high-risk setting, according to the health district website. The booster is only available to people who completed the Pfizer series at least six months ago.
More information on vaccine clinics and booster shots is available at yakimavaccines.org.
The health district is opening an additional COVID-19 testing site at State Fair Park to meet an increased demand for testing in Yakima.
The free drive-thru site at State Fair Park, 1301 S. Fair Ave., opens at 9 a.m. Monday, according to a news release. The site will offer weekend and evening testing. Testing is available from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The site will be open from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesdays. The entrance is located through Gate 15 off of Pacific Avenue.
Free community testing sites will continue at Yakima Valley College and Sunnyside Community Center. Appointments are not required, but people are encouraged to register ahead of time to reduce wait times, the news release said.