WSDH moves forward in pandemic with more focus on hospitalizations, less on case counts

Washington health officials are placing less emphasis on COVID-19 case counts, and focusing more on hospitalizations.

 

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Washington State Department of Health (WSDH) staff gave an update on the pandemic Wednesday. Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said BA.2 is still Washington’s dominant variant, and its representation in the state’s total number of cases has increased over the past few weeks. 

BA.2 represented about 50 percent of positive cases in the state a few weeks ago, Shah said. But it now represents more than 90 percent, he said.

That has led to a slight increase in Washington’s case counts, Shah said. The state’s seven-day case rate per 100,000 people was at 84.7 from April 5 -11, compared to  40.2 from March 14-20.

“But fortunately, we have not been seeing an increase when it comes to severe illness,” Shah said. “As we’ve gone through the various waves, we’ve seen increases in COVID-19 cases. We’ve been less focused on the number of cases for a number of reasons. What we’re really monitoring is hospitalizations. The most important thing for us is health care capacity.”

The state’s seven-day hospital admissions rate was at 2.7 percent from April 7-13, a slight increase from 4.1 from March 7-13.

The decision to put less emphasis on case counts is based on various factors, Shah said. 

A primary factor is that many people are testing at home. WSDH has contributed greatly to the effort to distribute home tests to residents. The department has sent 1 million test kits to residents through its Say Yes! To COVID Test program.

“There are four or five tests per kit, so that amounts to just shy of five million tests that have been sent out to Washington residents,” Shah said. “As people are at home testing, we’re not seeing as much information in our test counts.”

State Epidemiologist for Communicable Disease Dr. Scott Lindquist said the state’s transition to focusing less on case counts represents the public learning to live with COVID. 

“The need to count every case is not realistic, nor is it going to be as useful as it was in the past,” Lindquist said. “When we first had this pandemic, knowing every case was critical. As we’ve moved our strategies to people testing at home, the strategy moves around counting every single case. The surveillance system is under construction right now. What’s important is deaths. We had less than six deaths today. That’s territory we have not been in, in a long time.”

Lindquist also discussed the end of the federal mask mandate for travelers on airplanes and public transportation.

“We adhere to federal laws as far as what is mandated, but we still recommend masks,” Lindquist said. “A lot of people aren’t wearing masks on the ferry but I, personally, am still doing that. We respect the national guidance, but we still feel the need is good for masks, and you should always have a mask on you.”