COVID-19 cases spike significantly in the past week

Omicron variant likely cause

OLYMPIA — The state of Washington is seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases, and transmission is expected to rise in the coming weeks. While it is still too early to tell how much of the increase is due to Omicron, epidemiologists with the Washington State Department of health (DOH) agree that Omicron prevalence is increasing and is most likely the dominant strain.

While additional data are still being sent to the state, the largest single-day report of new cases so far occurred on December 24, with 6,140 new COVID-19 cases. Despite a recent increase in testing around the holidays, public health officials say the increase in new cases significantly outpaces the increase in testing. The number of cases is expected to continue to increase through the new year.

The spike in cases, together with the first cases of the flu this season, will likely mean increased hospitalizations in the near future, raising concerns about the state’s health care system. Washington state’s hospitals and clinics are already stretched and strained due to an exhausted and understaffed workforce who have been caring for more patients than ever before.

About Omicron

State Epidemiologist for Communicable Diseases, Scott Lindquist, MD, MPH, says Omicron likely has overtaken the Delta variant in Washington or will very soon based on sequencing information from the University of Washington, our state, and the CDC.

“What we are seeing now is the leading edge. Our focus is on getting a better picture of how and where Omicron is spreading,” he said. “It is not just about counting Omicron cases. It is about sampling the entire state so we can understand the prevalence of the variant beyond high-population areas. Washington state has one of the most extensive genotyping systems in the U.S., which allows us to track a variant’s spread faster than many other states.”

Studies are ongoing to determine the effectiveness of vaccines and therapeutic treatments, such as monoclonal antibodies and oral antivirals, against Omicron. Based on initial information, it appears that most monoclonal antibodies may not be as effective against this variant, although Sotrovimab, a medication that the FDA is allowing for emergency use to treat COVID-19, may be more effective against Omicron.

Early results also indicate that the initial vaccine series may be less effective at preventing infection with the Omicron variant, but still offer substantial protection against infection and severe illness. Receiving a booster dose may improve protection against severe disease with Omicron.

Pfizer, Moderna vaccines now recommended over Johnson & Johnson

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) is recommending people 18 and older choose to receive an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) instead of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine. This update follows guidance and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup. Individuals who wish to receive the J&J vaccine are encouraged to reach out to their health care provider to discuss their options as J&J will still be available across the state.

The preferential recommendation follows new data presented to the ACIP about thrombosis and thrombocytopenia syndrome, or TTS. TTS is a rare but serious condition involving blood clots and a low blood platelet count seen in some people who received the J&J vaccine. However, the risk is rare. Nationwide, 54 cases of TTS, including nine confirmed deaths, have been reported, which is a fraction of a percent of the 14 million doses of J&J given overall. While TTS has been seen in both men and women, the most at-risk group is women 30 through 49. People who received the J&J vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider.

Of the more than 11.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine given out across Washington, about 436,000 doses have been the J&J vaccine, which equals about 4%. According to data reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) through Nov. 30, there have been six possible cases of TTS following J&J vaccinations in Washington, including one death.

“Public health and safety are, and will always be, our top priorities, which is why we are adopting this new guidance,” said Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Secretary of Health. “Today, more than 5 million Washingtonians are fully vaccinated, which means they are protecting themselves from serious illness, hospitalization, and death. I continue to encourage everyone to get vaccinated and, with this news, boosted with an mRNA vaccine as soon as possible.”

Omicron Variant Increases Worries and Gives Momentum to COVID-19 Booster Shots

The emergence of the omicron COVID-19 variant is encouraging many already vaccinated adults to get a recommended booster shot but is providing only a little motivation for unvaccinated adults to get an initial shot, a new KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor quick response survey finds.

Fielded from Dec. 15-20 to provide an early look at omicron’s potential impact on the public’s vaccination intentions, the survey finds that about half (54%) of vaccinated adults who haven’t gotten a booster dose say news of the omicron variant will make them more likely to do so.

Omicron’s emergence appears to be having a much smaller, but not insignificant, effect on unvaccinated adults. The survey finds that 12% of those who are unvaccinated say it makes them more likely to get an initial shot, but a much larger share (87%) say it does not make them more likely to do.

Read the full article from KFF.

Updated COVID Resources

Get a vaccine, exposure notifications, COVID-10 testing, and proof of vaccination. Use the DOH vaccine locator to help end the pandemic. Next, get WA Notify so you’ll know if you’ve been near another person who later tests positive for COVID-19. To get quickly and easily tested anywhere in Washington, visit the DOH COVID-19 testing locations page. For K-12 students, staff, and parents/guardians, learn more about our partnership that helps schools provide easy COVID-19 testing on site. Once vaccinated, you can provide your vaccination status using WA Verify.

Latest COVID-19 reopening guidance for businesses and workers. See a full list of current reopening guidance from the Governor’s Office.

Guidance and resources for employers and business owners. Sign up for the Economic Resiliency Team business and worker newsletter.

The state COVID-19 Assistance Hotline is a general information line related to COVID-19. If you need information or have a general question, call 1-800-525-0127, then press # or text 211-211 for help. New hours of operation are 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and on observed state holidays. You can also text the word “Coronavirus” to 211-211 to receive information and updates on your phone wherever you are. You will receive links to the latest information on COVID-19, including county-level updates, and resources for families, businesses, students, and more.

Washington Listens helps people manage stress and anxiety they may be experiencing because of COVID-19. If you or anyone you know is having difficulties managing stress, call the Washington Listens support line at 1-833-681-0211. Hours are from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. TTY and language access services are available by using 7-1-1 or their preferred method. See resources and self-help tips from Washington Listens.

COVID-19 Variants: Omicron Rising

About the Data Insights

Omicron was first detected in the U.S. on December 1st and scientists are racing to understand the variant. Preliminary data suggests Omicron spreads more rapidly than other variants and is milder, although some scientists think it’s too early to know.

The recent arrival of Omicron to the United States has raised concerns about vaccine effectiveness and the future of the pandemic as we head into the new year. The emergence of variants and persistent vaccine inequality highlights the global nature of the pandemic. As more Americans are getting their booster shots, efforts are underway to get initial doses of vaccines to poor countries.

COVID-19 Boosters Now Recommended for Everyone 16 and Older

Booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are now available for teens ages 16 and 17. The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) expanded booster dose eligibility to include everyone 16 and older following guidance and recommendations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup.

“Ensuring booster doses are available to as many people as possible will add an extra layer of protection across our communities this winter, help keep families healthy as we gather this holiday season, and increase immunity as the omicron variant spreads worldwide,” said Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Secretary of Health. “Please do not delay, make an appointment to get your booster shot as soon as you are eligible.”

Everyone 16 and older is recommended to get a booster dose:

  • Six months after receiving the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, or
  • Two months after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

According to the CDC, initial data suggests COVID-19 boosters help broaden and strengthen the protection against omicron and other variants.

“The recent emergence of omicron is another reminder of the importance of vaccinations and boosters, especially for children and adults with chronic conditions that place them at higher risk for severe illness due to COVID-19,” said Dr. Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, Chief Science Officer. “We know vaccines are safe and effective at protecting us from hospitalization and death due to COVID-19. Getting a booster is the best way to increase immunity that tends to wane over time.”

Across Washington, more than 1,282,000 people have received an additional dose, which includes both boosters and third doses. Boosters can be mixed and matched, which means adults can get any COVID-19 vaccine available. However, Pfizer is currently the only vaccine authorized for people ages 16 and 17.

To make a vaccine or booster appointment, visit Vaccine Locator, Vaccines.gov, or call the COVID-19 Information Hotline at 833-VAX-HELP. Language assistance is available. If you are unable to make an appointment at one location due to high demand, please try another. DOH appreciates the public’s patience as vaccine supply continues to increase across the state. Those with further questions are encouraged to visit DOH’s COVID-19 Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions webpage or talk to their trusted health care provider.

142,000 New Child COVID Cases This Week

As of November 18, almost 6.8 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic. This week nearly 142,000 child cases were added, an increase of about 32% from two weeks ago. Child cases have declined since a peak of 252,000 the week of September 2nd, but COVID cases among children remain extremely high. For the 15th week in a row child COVID-19 cases are above 100,000. Since the first week of September, there have been over 1.7 million additional child cases.

The age distribution of reported COVID-19 cases was provided on the health department websites of 49 states, New York City, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Since the pandemic began, children represented 16.9% of total cumulated cases. For the week ending November 18, children were 25.1% of reported weekly COVID-19 cases (children, under age 18, make up 22.2% of the US population).

A smaller subset of states reported on hospitalizations and mortality by age; the available data indicate that COVID-19-associated hospitalization and death is uncommon in children.

At this time, it appears that severe illness due to COVID-19 is uncommon among children. However, there is an urgent need to collect more data on longer-term impacts of the pandemic on children, including ways the virus may harm the long-term physical health of infected children, as well as its emotional and mental health effects.

Read the full article from the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

The Pandemic’s Impact on Children: COVID Vaccinations & Mental Health

Children’s health care professionals in the US have declared a national state of emergency in child and adolescent mental health. The ongoing stress, fear, grief, disruption of schooling and uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic has weighed heavily on children and teens, and many are having a tough time coping emotionally.

Read the full article from NIHCM

Vaccinating Children Against COVID-19 in the US

Every child 5 and older is now eligible for the COVID vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the Pfizer pediatric vaccine for children 5-11 years old, and distribution has begun. While children 12 and older receive the same vaccine as adults, younger children receive one-third of the dose. The CDC expects vaccinating children 5-11 will prevent about 600,000 new cases from November 2021 to March 2022.

Read more from NIHCM.

COVID-19 Misinformation is Ubiquitous: 78% of the Public Believes or is Unsure About At Least One False Statement

More than three quarters (78%) of U.S. adults either believe or aren’t sure about at least one of eight false statements about the COVID-19 pandemic or COVID-19 vaccines, with unvaccinated adults and Republicans among those most likely to hold misconceptions, a new KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor report shows.

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of unvaccinated adults believe or are unsure about at least half of the eight false statements – more than three times the share of vaccinated adults (19%). Nearly half (46%) of Republicans believe or are unsure about at least half the statements, three times the share of Democrats (14%).

The findings highlight a major challenge for efforts to accurately communicate the rapidly evolving science about the pandemic when false and ambiguous information can spread quickly, whether inadvertently or deliberately, through social media, polarized news sources and other outlets.

The new report assesses the public’s awareness of, and belief in, a range of “myths” about the disease and the vaccines to prevent it. The most common misconceptions include:

• Most (60%) adults say they’ve heard that the government is exaggerating the number of COVID-19 deaths by counting deaths due to other factors and either believe it to be true (38%) or aren’t sure if it is true or false (22%).

• Four in 10 (39%) say they’ve heard pregnant women should not get the COVID-19 vaccine and believe it to be true (17%) or aren’t sure (22%).

• Three in 10 (31%) say they’ve heard that the vaccine has been shown to cause infertility and either believe it (8%) or aren’t sure if it’s true (23%).