Editor’s Note: Read COVID Updates by VashonBePrepared in Spanish and English at tinyurl.com/yan39zeh. See The Beachcomber’s additional reporting on the COVID outbreak at VHS here.
Update 12/15: VHS now reports 226 close contacts for the 10 cases of COVID at the high school — a number representing almost half of the student body.
Ten COVID Cases at High School, 185+ Close Contact Exposures
Vashon Island School District has reported ten COVID cases at Vashon High School.
Eight of the ten cases are wrestlers on the boys’ and girls’ high school wrestling teams. Contact tracing continues but the district has noted that the two teams competed in multi-district wrestling tournaments the weekend of Dec. 4, the boys in Auburn and the girls in Puyallup. The district has halted all wrestling activities as a precaution, including withdrawal from several competitions. In addition, at mid-week in reaction to the rising case count, the District quarantined the entire wrestling team from school. The District consulted with the Vashon Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) on the quarantine decision.
The first two COVID infections at the high school were identified late last week and newly discovered infections have been identified nearly every day since. The cases have been detected through several means, including home tests, a mass school district testing campaign at the high school, and tests being managed by the Vashon Medical Reserve Corps (MRC).
The 185+ potential close contacts identified so far do not yet include the close contacts for the three most recently identified cases so the total is certain to go higher. Based on the 185+ contact estimate, about 37% of the students enrolled at the high school have so far been identified as close contact exposures. One reason for the high number of exposures is the large number of classrooms involved in a typical day for a high school student. Unlike an elementary school classroom where students are together for the entire day, high school students attend multiple periods in a day, each one in a different classroom with the potential for exposing an additional group of students.
The number of exposures makes this the largest exposure event on Vashon by far since the pandemic began. The exposure count will climb higher as contact tracing continues for the latest identified cases. In addition, the total does not include cases and exposures that will be identified as the Vashon Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) works on family and community contact tracing.
All of the student and staff close contacts identified so far have been notified by the District. Any student not already notified is not considered a potential close contact exposure.
Vashon Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) has fully activated its contact tracing team to deal with the volume of community inquiries and urges families of students identified as potentially exposed close contacts to call the MRC helpline at 844-469-4554.
In addition, MRC volunteers are augmenting district staff to provide counsel and to assist with the very large load on the district’s antigen rapid testing program. MRC also provided PCR testing for all members of the wrestling team. In addition, MRC provides PCR testing at the school’s mass antigen rapid testing events, making it possible to immediately sample any positive antigen findings to confirm infection as soon as possible utilizing the more sensitive PCR methodology.
Families who call the helpline will be able to speak with the licensed medical professionals who volunteer with the MRC. Callers will be able to ask questions about their COVID concerns and receive advice about preventing the further spread of COVID on Vashon. A call to the helpline also will help MRC experts conduct household and community contact tracing, which is a separate operation from the school district contact tracing. If callers to the helpline are directed to voice mail, that’s because the call load has been quite high. Please be patient. All calls will be returned. In addition to coordinating with the MRC volunteers, the school district has been consulting with Public Health — Seattle & King County (PHSKC).
Omicron: What Do(n’t) We Know So Far?
Here’s the most important finding from three weeks of Omicron monitoring: People need to focus on the Delta variant. Omicron cases have been detected in nearly half the states, and a few cases have been detected in the Puget Sound region. Omicron will eventually be everywhere. However, right now, Delta continues to be the dominant form of COVID in our region.
“If your house is on fire, you fight the fire you are in because that’s the immediate danger for you and your family. Of course, you need to keep an eye on the house fire down the block at the same time,” said Dr. Jim Bristow, co-coordinator of the MRC. “Case counts are up 50% in King County over the past 2 weeks, and those cases are almost all Delta. So, we strongly recommend everyone keep up the good work with masks and boosters, and all the things we know work well to protect you, your family, and our community. The good news is, it looks like most of the tried and true methods that protect against Delta will also help protect against Omicron.”
The Emergency Operations Center and the MRC continue to monitor Omicron research reports and information from the CDC, the state Department of Health, and Public Health — Seattle & King County (PHSKC).
• Early laboratory test results announced by Pfizer suggest that a two-dose vaccination plus a booster work well to prevent serious illness from the Omicron variant. Many public health experts have emphasized the importance of getting a booster, even before the Pfizer announcement.
• Omicron statistics from southern Africa and the United Kingdom suggest the newly identified variant can spread very quickly. However, these are early reports and not yet conclusive regarding the potential speed of transmission in other environments.
• Many health care providers in southern Africa report that Omicron cases have been mild, raising hopes that Omicron will be less dangerous than the Delta variant. However, this early data may not tell the complete story. Many more cases will need to be studied before there is enough data to draw firm conclusions.
Dr. Fauci Suggests: “Enjoy”
The nation’s most prominent infectious disease expert says it’s okay to get together with your family during the holidays, as long as you are careful. He emphasized the need to be vaccinated and for people at the gathering to be vaccinated as well, although children younger than 5 are still not eligible to get their shots.
“If you have a vaccinated situation, enjoy the holidays with your family in a family setting,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He went on to say that people should get their booster shots. “Get that extra boost now. The level of antibodies that rise and go up following a boost is much, much higher than the peak level that you get after your second dose of a two-dose vaccine.”
17,500 Shots and Counting
Demand for booster shots has spiked, with worries about the Omicron variant and the desire to get optimum protection before holiday travel. So far, Vashon Pharmacy’s volunteer-assisted vaccination program has provided 17,500 injections, including 5,000 booster shots.
Plan Ahead for Holiday COVID Services
After nearly 22 months of activation with very little time off, many VashonBePrepared volunteers will be taking an extended break over the holidays. Fire Chief Charlie Krimmert, the organization’s Incident Commander, has ordered a safety and rest stand down. Some units will completely stand down, and others will maintain a basic level of essential services. For example, the MRC will reduce its testing schedule but will maintain its helpline so contact tracing can continue if needed to contain new infections. Operations at the mass booster vaccination site at the Methodist Church will be paused after Dec. 16 and the number of COVID vaccination appointments inside the pharmacy will be reduced temporarily. The EOC will have a duty officer on watch in case of urgent issues.
School District: Open for Tests for All Vashon Youth
The district has opened its rapid testing site at Vashon High School to all island youth ages 0 to 18. School district testing will be available only for youth with symptoms. The District does not have enough resources to conduct testing for travel or holiday gathering needs or pre-medical procedures.
The rapid antigen test requires self-administered nasal swabbing and provides results in roughly 15 to 20 minutes. Normal testing hours are 7:30 am to 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, at the StudentLink building. Testing hours on Friday, Dec. 17 will be limited and end at noon. Limited testing will also be available during the holiday break on Dec. 27 and 28, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, visit the district’s website at bit.ly/VISD-testing. Alternative testing options are detailed at vashonbeprepared.org/COVID/Testing.
Vashon Community COVID Statistics
Source: Public Health — Seattle & King County (PHSKC) and Vashon EOC
Note: These statistics do not yet include the recent cases at Vashon High School, due to the lag between case identification and posting in the PHSKC dashboard.
252 = Total COVID cases for Vashon residents since the pandemic began.
4 = New cases since the last weekly report (8 new cases in 14 days)
8 = Patients hospitalized since the pandemic began.
4 = Deaths since the pandemic began.
92.0% = Vashon residents age 12 and above fully vaccinated. (Compares to 85.2% of the total King County 12+ population.
56.2% = 5 to 11-year olds with first doses of vaccine
For King County, the PHSKC dashboard says unvaccinated people are seven times more likely to get COVID, 35 times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID and 40 times more likely to die of COVID.
For more resources and information, visit VashonBePrepared.org. Sign up at tinyurl.com/4smk364m to receive email updates from the group, and/or visit VashonBePrepared on Facebook.