Changes to our weekly COVID-19 updates and what you should expect

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You might have noticed that Skagit County Public Health is using a new graphic to show local weekly COVID-19 data. If you are actively monitoring our data using the state’s Data Dashboard, you might be wondering why the data we’re putting out doesn’t seem to be matching up with what you’re seeing on your screen. For some background information and some answers to questions you might have, we’ve put together the following Q&A.

What’s going on with the state data dashboard? Why are the numbers not lining up?

There are a few things happening right now that are causing our local numbers and those appearing on the state’s Data Dashboard to not line up exactly. Firstly, it is important to remember that the state Dashboard typically updates Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, meaning numbers on the Dashboard today are actually representative of the data several days ago. Since the Omicron surge, the state systems have experienced a substantial slowdown in processing new cases and as they are caught up, the data on the Dashboard will be updated as well.

Another cause for the discrepancy is that sometimes data on the Data Dashboard contains duplicate information and it takes several days for corrections to be made. That’s why looking at the Epidemiologic Curves tab is the best place to view the level of COVID-19 activity, since these numbers have been verified both by the state and by local health jurisdictions like ours.

We are working with the state to correct the Cumulative Data on the Dashboard, but please expect to see some differences until these corrections can be made. In the meantime, our local epidemiologist is crunching our numbers to ensure that we can provide Skagitonians with the most accurate data possible.

Is the data really reflecting what’s going on when more and more people are using at-home test kits and maybe not reporting positive test results?

Now that at-home test kits are more widely available and are being used in greater numbers by the public, it is safe to assume that some positive test results are not being reported. That said, we know that many people continue to call either the state COVID hotline (1-800-525-0127) or Skagit County Public Health (360-416-1500) to report their positive results.

As we enter this new phase of the pandemic, and as our testing practices evolve, we can still look to key data indicators to determine whether we are trending upward, or downward.

One of the best indicators is our 7-day hospitalization rate. We can look to how our hospitalization rates are trending to determine the severity of a surge or wave. With Omicron, we experienced more new cases per week than at any other time during the pandemic, and as a result, we saw the greatest number of hospitalizations. While the majority of folks experienced milder COVID-19 during the Omicron surge, the number of hospitalizations increased proportional to the new cases.

Another helpful indicator is to look at other parts of the globe that are further along in the Omicron surge. We can look to other countries to see how their waves have played out. While not an exact science, this can help us predict our own timeline here in Washington.

What about the new changes to contact tracing and investigation? Could this impact the data?

Beginning on February 14, the state has changed its system for case investigation and contact tracing (CICT). Instead of reaching out to every person who tests positive for COVID-19, the state will now focus CICT efforts on four key areas:

  • Outbreak Investigation
  • Case investigations in high-risk settings
  • Targeted case investigations among those at risk of more severe illness
  • Targeted case investigations among those with unusual illness presentation

The state will continue to receive reports of all electronically received lab results and will upload these positive results into the state reporting system, and encourages those using at-home tests to report positive results using WA Notify.

The fundamental difference now is that individuals who tests positive for COVID-19 will be solely responsible for reaching out to friends, family members, and colleagues who may have been exposed, and to encourage others to get tested and quarantine to reduce further spread. For this reason, there is a likelihood that some positive cases will go unreported and thus, wouldn’t appear in the state’s data reporting.

Where is the best place to go to see daily case information?

As previously stated, the best place to go for accurate data is to look under the Epidemiologic Curve tab on the Data Dashboard. Here, you can see both verified case count data, but you can also view our 7-day and 14-day trends.

At this point in the pandemic, looking at trends is going to be the best way to gauge current risk, and to see where we are heading. After all, looking at trends—instead of daily case counts—helps to tell the full story, whereas daily case counts do not show you how are numbers compare week to week, or month to month.

In an effort to help folks better understand our local data and to highlight key indicators that best represent our current risk status, we are changing the way that we provide our data updates each week. You will notice that we have a new graphic (updated each Wednesday) that highlights the following indicators:

  • 14-day case rate
  • 7-day hospitalization rate
  • Total number of deaths
  • Vaccination rates
  • CDC Level of Disease Activity

It is our hope that you will find these updates helpful. Of course, if you have questions, you can reach out to Public Health by calling (360) 416-1500 or emailing me directly at danicas@co.skagit.wa.us.


Updated Quarantine Requirements for Vaccinated Persons

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On February 10th, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced some recent changes to quarantine requirements for those who are fully vaccinated. This update comes at a perfect time as more people are getting vaccinated and as many are beginning to wonder what life will look like post-vaccine.

If you have been following the news, or if you have been recently vaccinated, you have most likely heard the recommendations: Vaccinated persons should continue to follow current guidance to protect themselves and others, including wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet away from others, and avoiding crowds.

But why must those who have received both doses of vaccine continue to practice these safety precautions? Shouldn’t we be able to go back to normal once vaccines are more readily available?

Well…the science just isn’t there quite yet to tell us otherwise!

What we know—and don’t know just yet

We know that the currently approved COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19, meaning that those who have received a full vaccine series have protection against developing symptoms and are especially protected against severe illness related to COVID-19. The evidence also shows that symptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission has a greater role in transmission that purely asymptomatic transmission.

While mRNA COVID-19 vaccines (like Pfizer and Moderna) have demonstrated high efficacy at preventing severe and symptomatic COVID-19, there is limited information on how effective the vaccines are at reducing transmission and how long protection lasts. The efficacy of the vaccines against emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants is also not yet known.

As we wait to learn more about how much vaccines are able to reduce transition, it is best to be cautious. Counties across Washington State have shown reductions in COVID-19 cases in the past several weeks, and it is best to keep doing what we know works best against the virus.

If you are like me though, you may be looking for a glimmer of hope for the coming months. The updated CDC quarantine guidelines is a promising example of the benefits that vaccinated individuals will begin to see.

Updated Guidance for Vaccinated Persons

The CDC states that vaccinated persons with an exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 are not required to quarantine if they meet all of the following criteria. Persons who do not meet all three of the below criteria should continue to follow current quarantine guidance after exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19:

1. Are fully vaccinated (i.e. it has been longer than two weeks following receipt of the second dose in a two-dose series, or it has been longer than two weeks following receipt of one dose of a single-dose vaccine).

2. Have remained asymptomatic since the current COVID-19 exposure.

3. Are within three months following receipt of the last dose in the series (meaning that an individual is no more than three months out from their last vaccine dose).

Experts are currently gathering data about the duration of immunity to COVID-19 post-vaccination. At present, we have good data confidence to say that immunity lasts for 90 days (or three months). This may change as more data is gathered and analyzed.

Vaccinated healthcare personnel, patients, and residents in healthcare settings

If you are a healthcare worker, patient, or resident of a healthcare setting, these new updates will not apply to you. This exception is due to the unknown vaccine effectiveness in this population, the higher risk of severe disease and death, and challenges with social distancing in healthcare settings. These individuals must continue to follow current quarantine guidance.

Exposed and feeling sick. Now what?

Fully vaccinated persons who do not quarantine should still watch for symptoms of COVID-19 for 14 days following an exposure. If they experience symptoms, they should be clinically evaluated for COVID-19. In addition, vaccinated persons should continue to follow current guidance to protect themselves and others, including all other SARS-CoV-2 testing recommendations and requirements, and state, territorial, tribal, and local travel recommendations or requirements. For local information, visit: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HealthDiseases/coronavirus.htm.

More to come

The CDC quarantine recommendations for vaccinated persons, including the criteria above, will be updated when more data becomes available and additional COVID-19 vaccines are authorized.

To find out if you are currently eligible for vaccine in Washington State, visit www.findyourphasewa.org. If eligible, people can register for an appointment at one of the many vaccine provider locations: https://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/Immunization/VaccineLocations. Please know that vaccine supply is still quite limited at this time, and it will take several months for all currently eligible individuals to receive vaccine.

For information about Skagit County Public Health’s vaccination clinic at the Skagit County Fairgrounds, visit www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine or call the Vaccine Hotline at (360) 416-1500.


SKAGIT COUNTY TO PRIORITIZE TEST SITE FOR SKAGIT RESIDENTS AND WORKERS

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August 21, 2020: COVID-19 Updates from Skagit County

Yesterday, Skagit County announced that beginning on August 31, 2020, it will limit use of its drive through testing site to those who live in or work in Skagit County. This was a difficult decision, but COVID-19 is more likely to be with us for months than weeks, and long-term sustainability of the testing site for Skagit County residents, workers and employees has to be the top priority.

In a press release yesterday, Public Health Director Jennifer Johnson spoke about the decision: “We want to be good neighbors, but we’re in a place where our current testing level isn’t sustainable. In order to protect this vital service for Skagit County residents, we have to ask that those who do not live or work here seek testing elsewhere.”

Understandably, the decision to restrict testing has created some questions about data and availability of testing.

If Skagit was testing residents from other counties, does this mean that those positive cases are counted in our case count total?

No. It doesn’t matter where a person is tested; the positive test result only counts for the county where the person lives. We do show total positive results and people tested at the drive through site on our separate testing website, but only those positive cases who live in Skagit count towards our total and the Governor’s risk assessment metrics.

How will Skagit County ensure that only residents and workers are using the testing site?

Starting on August 31, 2020, we will be setting up an additional screening tent at the test site. Workers will ask patrons questions about where they live or work. More information on how this will affect the flow of the testing site can be found at www.skagitcounty.net/coronavirus.

We also regularly tweet live updates on wait times and weather conditions at the test site. You can follow those at @SkagitGov on Twitter, or by taking a look at the Twitter feed embedded on the main page of our website.

How many people was Skagit County testing from other counties?

Around half of those utilizing the testing site over the last three months were Skagit County residents. The second largest group came from Whatcom County, at roughly 22 percent. We do not currently ask questions about employment, so it is entirely possible that many of those individuals work in Skagit County. Anecdotally, however, our testing site workers have noticed that a large portion of non-Skagit residents are seeking testing for travel purposes.

What does it cost to operate the testing site?

It varies slightly week to week, but it costs roughly $60,000 per week for Skagit to operate the drive through testing site. This amount does not account for the large number of unpaid volunteer hours and the hidden costs of Public Health staff time required for follow-up on positive cases. Skagit County has been using its allocated Coronavirus Aide, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act dollars, provided by the federal government, to cover some of the costs. CARES funding is only available through October 31, 2020.

I’ve heard utilization of the testing site has decreased in recent weeks. Why limit use now?

We have seen a slight decline in testing site utilization over the past few weeks. We do not expect this to continue. With another major holiday coming—we’ve seen spikes in cases and utilization about 10 days after every major holiday since March—flu season right around the corner, and some school districts returning to hybrid or in-person instruction, we have to plan for the inevitable increase in need at the testing site and make sure our operation is sustainable.

Where can people who don’t reside in or work in Skagit get tested?

Individuals can always contact their primary care provider about testing. If you don’t have a primary care provider or need additional information, individuals can contact their home county health department or district:

What should I do if I have more questions?

Our Health Department is always happy to answer any questions you have.
You can email them at eh@co.skagit.wa.us or call 360-416-1500.

You can also follow Public Health on Facebook for up to date information, take a look at our blog Skagit Health Connection or check out our Communications Coordinator Laura Han’s updates on Nextdoor.