The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) created a new Respiratory Illness Data Dashboard that allows people to track COVID-19, flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) disease activity by region across the state.
The new, comprehensive dashboard replaces DOH’s COVID-19 Data Dashboard, which retired Sept. 18. COVID-19 data and reports can now be found on the new dashboard site.
“We hope the new Respiratory Illness Data Dashboard will inform communities and help guide their personal decision making on prevention measures such as masks and social distancing,” said Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, MD, MPH, Chief Science Officer at DOH. “Getting up to date on vaccinations and staying home when you’re sick can also help protect you and those around you against the worst impacts of COVID-19, flu, and RSV. We all need to do our part to reduce the chance that our healthcare system could be overwhelmed by respiratory illnesses in the coming months.”
One major change in the new dashboard is the inclusion of data from previous years, providing the public with clearer comparisons between current disease activity and that of years past. The Respiratory Illness Data Dashboard will be updated weekly through April 2024. Subsequent update frequency depends on the degree of ongoing activity for COVID-19.
If you’re at high risk of serious illness or death from Covid-19, it’s time to dust off those N95 masks and place them snugly over your nose and mouth to protect yourself from a recent uptick of the virus, according to a growing number of experts.
That advice should go all the way up to 80-year-old President Joe Biden, said Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a cardiologist.
“Octogenarians comprise the highest-risk group for complications following Covid infection,” Reiner said.
“At least until the numbers start to drop again, it would be appropriate for President Biden to take some precautions and wear a mask in crowds.”
Other high-risk groups include people with diabetes, cancer, chronic liver, kidney or lung disease, organ or stem cell transplants, HIV or other immunocompromising conditions, a history of heart disease or stroke, dementia or mental health issues.
“If you’re a caregiver for somebody who is at increased risk of complication following infection, then I think you should also consider putting a mask on in public places,” said Reiner, a professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences.
“And since the masks that are most effective are N95 that are now readily available, that’s the kind of mask you should wear,” he added.
During the Covid-19 Public Health Emergency, Washington State changed some rules about Apple Health (Medicaid). If you or a family member had Medicaid for health insurance, you did not have to renew every year. If you paid a premium for Medicaid health insurance, premium payments stopped during the Public Health Emergency. Some people received temporary health insurance coverage if they qualified for other benefits.
The PHE ended March 31, 2023, and now:
- Beginning April 2023, you must renew your Apple Health/Medicaid insurance
- If you usually paid a premium, premiums are starting up again
- You may need a new eligibility review
If you do not renew, do not complete a required eligibility review or if you do not pay a premium when it is due, you may lose your health insurance coverage for you or your family member.
What to do:
- Update your contact information with your insurance provider so your provider can send you important information about renewal, eligibility reviews and premiums
- Renew your insurance when your provider tells you
- Premiums for certain Apple Health/Medicaid insurance plans are starting again (Apple Health for Kids with premiums/Children’s Health Insurance Program, Apple Health for Workers with Disabilities (HWD). Watch your mail or email for notices or premium bills from your provider
If you are on one of these Apple Health/Medicaid plans, call:
- Amerigroup: 1-800-600-4441
- Community Health Plan of Washington: 1-800-440-1561
- Coordinated Care: 1-877-644-4613
- UnitedHealthcare: 1-877-542-8997
If you usually get notices from WA State Health Care Authority email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, date of birth, and updated contact information.
If you usually get notices from Washington Healthplanfinder:
- Log in to your Washington Healthplanfinder account at wahealthplanfinder.org
- Call Washington Healthplanfinder at 1-855-923-4633
If you are age 65 and older, have blindness or a disability, get Medicare, and get healthcare coverage through Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS):
- Update contact information at waconnection.org or call 1-877-501-2233 or
- Visit your local Community Service Office
Since January 2022, daily COVID-19 reported cases are down 92%, COVID-19 deaths have declined by over 80%, and new COVID-19 hospitalizations are down nearly 80%.
As a result, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) will end on May 11. To prepare for this transition, HHS has released Fact Sheet: COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Transition Roadmap detailing what will and will not be affected by the end of the PHE.
For provider-specific information about PHE waivers and flexibilities, visit the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Emergencies webpage.
Mild to moderate COVID-19 lasts about two weeks for most people. In others, the long-term effects of COVID-19 can cause lingering health problems that last for months. While it is clear that people with certain risk factors like high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, and obesity are more likely to have a serious case of COVID-19, there is not a clear link between these risk factors and the long-term effects of COVID-19. While the percentage of people who have had COVID and currently report long COVID symptoms has recently declined, the rate remains high.
This infographic explores what we currently know about long COVID. It also offers methods for preventing long COVID through protective measures and vaccines. Although we still do not know much about long COVID, scientists are working to better understand this new and emerging illness and how different groups of people experience it.
Free telehealth appointments expand access to oral antivirals
The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) has relaunched its popular free telehealth program to increase access to potentially life-saving medication to treat COVID-19. The program expands the federal government’s Test to Treat initiative and gives people at risk of severe disease another way to quickly access treatment.
DOH’s telehealth program is an easy way to see if COVID-19 oral antivirals, such as Paxlovid, are right for you. Oral antivirals, which are COVID-19 treatment pills taken by mouth, are available by prescription only and must be started within five days of the first symptoms to be effective. Telehealth allows patients to connect with a clinician without having to go to a health care facility in person. This reduces barriers to access, especially in rural and underserved urban areas, and allows patients to stay at home for assessment and treatment, reducing the potential spread of the disease.
“Equity, innovation, and engagement are the cornerstone values that have informed DOH throughout our COVID-19 response,” said Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Secretary of Health. “Ensuring that we continue this important program that connects communities with needed therapeutics is an essential step in continuing our mission of reducing unnecessary deaths from this disease.”
Between July 28 and Dec. 31, 2022, DOH’s telehealth program:
- Served 6,329 patients from over 400 zip codes throughout Washington state.
- Provided over 4,200 prescriptions to patients with positive COVID-19 tests.
- Served over 975 patients that live in high Equitable Distribution Index (EDI) areas.
DOH encourages people who test positive for COVID-19 to discuss treatment options with their primary health care provider. In situations where this might not be possible, free telehealth consultations can make it easier to access treatments. People who test positive for COVID-19, including with a self-test, can consult with a health care provider using a smartphone or computer with a high-speed internet connection. If treatment is appropriate, they can receive a free prescription for oral antivirals for pick-up from over 1,000 pharmacies throughout the state that has the medication available. They can also choose to have the medication delivered.
Visit DOH’s new telehealth webpage to set up a telehealth appointment or call the DOH COVID-19 call center at 1-800-525-0127 if you have any questions. If the information provided indicates treatment may be appropriate, the patient will be connected virtually with a health care provider for a consultation. Telehealth appointments are currently available every day from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. PST in 240 languages via DOH’s collaboration partner Color Health.
“Restarting DOH’s telehealth program ensures that patients at high risk for severe disease have equitable access to lifesaving COVID-19 treatments,” said Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, MD, MPH, Chief Science Officer. “This service is free for everyone so that even those without insurance can access antiviral medications. Offering free telehealth consultations in multiple languages also increases access for non-English speakers.”
DOH will reassess the program in June to determine if it should continue in light of future needs.
At a meeting to simplify the nation’s covid vaccination policy, the FDA’s panel of experts could agree on only one thing: Information is woefully lacking about how often different groups of Americans need to be vaccinated. That data gap has contributed to widespread skepticism, undervaccination, and ultimately unnecessary deaths from covid-19.
The committee voted unanimously Thursday to support the FDA’s proposal for all vaccine-makers to adopt the same strain of the virus when making changes in their vaccines, and suggested they might meet in May or June to select a strain for the vaccines that would be rolled out this fall.
However, the panel members disagreed with the FDA’s proposal that everyone get at least one shot a year, saying more information was needed to make such a declaration. Several panelists noted that in recent studies, only about a third of people hospitalized with a positive covid test actually were there because of covid illness. That’s because everyone entering a hospital is tested for covid, so deaths of patients with incidental infections are counted as covid deaths even when it isn’t the cause.
The experts questioned the rationale for annual shots for everyone, given that current vaccines do not seem to protect against infection for more than a few months. Yet even a single booster seems to prevent death and hospitalization in most people, except for the very old and people with certain medical conditions.
“We need the CDC to tell us exactly who is getting hospitalized and dying of this virus — the ages, vulnerability, the type of immune compromise, and whether they were treated with antivirals. And we need immunological data to indicate who’s at risk,” said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center and a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Only then can we decide who gets vaccinated with what and when.”
Offit and others have expressed frustration over the lack of clear government messaging on what the public can expect from covid vaccines. While regular boosters might be important for keeping the elderly and medically frail out of the hospital, he said, the annual boosters suggested by the FDA and the drug companies may not be necessary for everyone.
OLYMPIA – The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) and other healthcare providers will soon begin offering omicron variant-targeted bivalent booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines to children ages 6 months and older. This follows guidance and recommendations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Children 6 months through 5 years of age who received the original (monovalent) two-dose Moderna COVID-19 vaccine series are now eligible to receive a booster of the updated (bivalent) Moderna COVID-19 vaccine two months after their last dose.
- Children 6 months through 4 years of age who have not started or completed their three-dose Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine series will now receive the updated (bivalent) Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as the third dose following two doses of the original (monovalent) Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
- Children 6 months through 4 years of age who have already completed their three-dose primary series with the original (monovalent) Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are not eligible for an updated (bivalent) booster dose at this time.
DOH urges all parents and guardians of children ages 6 months and older to prioritize vaccinating their children with the updated booster if eligible, or starting the COVID-19 vaccine primary series if they are yet to begin. Washington state is currently seeing record pediatric hospitalizations from respiratory viruses and vaccines add an extra level of protection from severe illness. Additionally, flu vaccines are available to everyone 6 months and older at provider offices and pharmacies across the state. Flu and COVID-19 vaccines can be safely given at the same time.
“This is great news that infants and young children can now get the updated bivalent booster, which offers better protection against Omicron subvariants,” said Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, MD, MPH, Chief Science Officer. “We encourage everyone 6 months and older to get up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines and boosters as well as the seasonal flu shot in order to keep yourself and those around you safe, and to reduce the pressure on our severely stressed hospital system.”
Pediatric-focused COVID-19 boosters are expected to start arriving in provider offices the week of December 12. To make a vaccine or booster appointment, visit VaccinateWA.org, or call the COVID-19 Information Hotline at 833-VAX-HELP. Language assistance is available. If you have questions, visit DOH’s COVID-19 Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions webpage or talk to a trusted healthcare provider.
Preparation and prevention strategies can help keep you safe and healthy
OLYMPIA – With the cooler weather comes traditional holiday gatherings with friends and family. Amid a strained hospital system, an early and more severe respiratory virus season, and people gathering to celebrate, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) would like to remind everyone how to stay safe and healthy this holiday season.
Respiratory viruses are more common this time of year and medical facilities, especially pediatric emergency departments, are seeing a higher-than-usual number of patients for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Hospitals were already operating at higher capacity, and it has become even more important to utilize preventive measures to ensure there is space for those with critical health needs.
“Connecting is important during the holiday season but it can be challenging when we are concerned about our own health and that of those around us,” said Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, Washington State Secretary of Health. “A little prevention can go a long way in helping us enjoy our social circle and stay healthy at the same time.”
Tips to help lower the risk of contracting viruses, spreading illness, or needing hospital care in the coming months:
- Although masks are no longer required for the public except in healthcare settings and correctional facilities, DOH recommends you consider wearing a mask in crowded or poorly ventilated settings to reduce the chance of getting sick or spreading viruses.
- Note – DOH had planned to update current masking requirements by mid-November. It is continuing its review and plans to issue an update in the coming weeks.
- DOH recommends everyone 6 months and older be vaccinated for influenza and COVID-19 to lower risk of transmission and serious illness. If you have already been vaccinated against COVID-19, make an appointment now to receive your booster. People ages 5 years and older who had their last COVID-19 shot at least two months ago can get the updated booster. Influenza and COVID-19 vaccines can be safely given at the same time. There is currently no approved vaccine for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
- If you or a member of your family are sick, stay home and use the appropriate level of care necessary. Call your healthcare provider or pediatrician for advice or to make an appointment. Consider going to an urgent care or check if telehealth is an option. For emergencies, call 9-1-1 or go to your nearest emergency room immediately.
- Wash your hands often and avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose, which are where viruses commonly enter the body.
- Consider taking a COVID-19 test prior to gathering, especially if you are getting together with people who are older, immunocompromised, or at risk for severe disease.
- Practice food safety by washing your hands, keeping foods at the correct temperature, preparing foods correctly, and disinfecting surfaces.
Simple but important steps can help keep all of us healthy and safe this holiday season!