Washington’s COVID-19 cases are dropping, but omicron subvariant is causing concern


Shane Ersland


The number of COVID-19 cases in Washington are dropping, but health officials are concerned with the omicron subvariant’s recent activity.


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Washington State Department of Health (DOH) officials discussed the state’s COVID-19 cases during a press conference Wednesday. DOH Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said cases and hospitalizations continue to decline, but BA.2, the omicron subvariant of COVID-19, has become the state’s dominant strain.

“We’re watching that very closely here, and how it’s playing out in other parts of the country,” Shah said. “This is an interim period. We are watching BA.2, and we are seeing, in some places, some increases. However, the data are not showing it is affecting hospitalizations as of yet. We’re hopeful we do not see a surge.”

The state initially detected the omicron subvariant in late January. DOH Deputy Secretary for Prevention and Health Lacy Fehrenbach said BA.2 is slightly more transmissible than BA.1, but it is not more severe from a clinical standpoint. Although it accounted for less than 8 percent of the state’s cases less than a month ago, it accounted for 73 percent of new U.S. cases at one point in mid-December 2021.

Only 6 percent of hospital beds are currently occupied by COVID-19 patients, Fehrenbach said. The seven-day rate of new COVID-19 cases was at 40 cases per 100,000 people as of March 27.

“[The numbers] are similar to our summer 2021 lows, and daily deaths in Washington are finally in the single digits,” Fehrenbach said. “These trends are reason to be cautious in terms of the presence of BA.2, but reason to be hopeful because the numbers are low in our state.”

DOH Assistant Secretary for Prevention and Health Michele Roberts said more than 13.2 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been given to more than 5.8 million people in Washington as of March 26. More than 2.7 million booster doses have been distributed throughout the state.

Fehrenbach discussed some options for those who are not insured, or underinsured, to get testing or treatment. Options include getting services at the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, and several mobile clinics that are funded through Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursements.

“People who are uninsured can get their services there,” Fehrenbach said. “There is also a program through the state’s Health Care Authority that provides grants to places like federally qualified health centers, rural health clinics, and public hospital districts to help cover the care costs for uninsured individuals.”