Local spike continues: with 131 new positive cases in one week

In the week ending Jan. 7, Vashon saw high infection rates; a record-breaking 131 new positive cases

Editor’s Note: Read COVID Updates by VashonBePrepared in Spanish and English at tinyurl.com/yan39zeh.

For the week ending Jan. 7, Vashon saw extremely high infection rates, resulting in a record-breaking 131 new positive cases. That’s 4.5 times the number seen in the week ending Dec. 31.

King County’s data dashboard reported one additional hospitalization from Vashon last week, bringing the total to nine since the pandemic began.

The Vashon Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), which targets its tests to symptomatic and exposed individuals, administered a record 321 tests over the past week, identifying 84 new cases, for a high 26% positivity rate.

COVID-19 testing was also offered at Vashon High School (VHS) gym on Tuesday, Jan. 4, administered by Vashon Island School District (VISD) with help from the MRC team. (See page 1.) Of the 301 tests administered at VHS that morning, 13 positive cases were found, for a positivity rate of 4.3%. The much lower positivity rate at the school district represents the difference between targeted testing by the MRC and surveillance testing by VISD.

Rates for both types of testing increased, so continued caution is advised: vaccinate and boost, wear a mask, avoid gatherings outside of your household, and stay home and get tested if you have been exposed or if you have even mild symptoms.

MRC Requests Your Patience

The Vashon MRC testing team requests the public’s patience as they work hard to continue providing testing and information services by their trained and experienced volunteers during this spike. Due to much higher demand, Dr. Jim Bristow of the MRC advised they may not be able to provide the same-day testing service that was previously the norm.

Test results are also taking longer than the previous 24-hour turnaround because the lab in Seattle is experiencing high volumes from all over King county. Record-high call volumes to the MRC Helpline often involve time-consuming and challenging issues. The MRC team encourages Vashonites to continue to call the Helpline at (844) 469-4554, but remain patient when waiting for callbacks.

If You Get Sick or Exposed

The newsletter for Dec. 31 included the section “Make Your Omicron Plan,” which outlined guidance for quarantining and isolating. On Dec. 27, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) changed its guidance for both isolation of those with COVID and quarantine of those exposed to someone with COVID. Public Health – Seattle & King County (PHSKC) changed its guidance soon afterward. (PHSKC’s guidance is on its COVID website at tinyurl.com/KC-isol).

The Vashon MRC continues to recommend a more conservative approach, because Vashon’s average age is substantially older than King County as a whole and we have to go farther for acute medical care. Dr. Jim Bristow of Vashon MRC detailed the reasons for this more conservative approach (see below).

Isolation After Symptoms or Positive Test

Both the CDC and PHSKC have reduced the recommended period of isolation for those with COVID from 10 to 5 days, either after the onset of symptoms or after a positive test if no symptoms are present. The CDC reports that this change is based on new science that shows that “most people” with COVID -19 are not infectious after the first five days.

“MRC and many public health experts across the country have been quick to point out that 1) the data for this new science has not been made public and so can’t be evaluated, and 2) “most people” is not the same as all people, so some fraction, estimated to be 25-30% based on the Delta variant, will be infectious for longer than 5 days after the onset of symptoms,” said Bristow.

Bristow urges Vashonites to follow the more conservative guidance that is already in place.

“We recommend that those with COVID-19 isolate for 10 days, to ensure that when they leave isolation, they will not be infectious to others,” he said.

Quarantine After Exposure

The CDC and PHSKC now recommend that those who are up-to-date on vaccinations do not need to quarantine after exposure to COVID-19, should wear a high-quality well-fitting mask for 10 days, and get tested on the 5th day after exposure, if feasible. If you are not fully vaccinated, they recommend quarantining for 5 days, testing on day 5 and wearing a well-fitting mask for an additional 5 days.

However, Dr. Bristow noted that the majority of COVID-19 cases on Vashon occur in vaccinated individuals who may have high viral loads and are as capable as unvaccinated individuals of transmitting COVID-19.

“These individuals are infectious to others for up to 48 hours before the onset of symptoms,” he said. “Unfortunately, one can develop COVID-19 up to 10 days after exposure, so a five-day quarantine is expected to prevent about 75% of transmission. Longer quarantines up to 10 days will result in less transmission.”

The MRC recommends a 10-day quarantine for those who can manage it, with testing on day 7.

MRC recognizes this may not be feasible for many families, and seeks to work with each family to understand what is possible and work out a quarantine and testing strategy that works for them. In discussions with families, MRC emphasizes that the risk for COVID-19 transmission is five times greater for household contacts than it is for workplace or school exposures. As a result, MRC emphasizes quarantine routines within the home, including masking, distancing, and ventilation.

Get vaccinated and boosted – Now Including Youth Aged 12 to 15

On Jan. 6, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) approved boosters for youth aged 12 to 15. Anyone 12 and older who has completed their primary vaccination series and has waited the prescribed elapsed time is now eligible for a booster. (Elapsed times depend on which vaccine was received. The wait is five months after completing the Pfizer series, six months after completing the Moderna series, and two months after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.)

In response to the new approval for this younger age group, school-based clinics are planned for Jan. 13 at McMurray and Jan. 14 at Vashon High School. The school-based clinics for all eligible school-aged youth are a collaborative effort between Vashon Pharmacy, Vashon Island School District, Medical Reserve Corps, Vashon CERT, and VashonBePrepared.

The deadlines for registering for the school clinics were Jan. 11 and 12, respectively, but any students who miss the school-based vaccination/booster clinics can make an appointment with Vashon Pharmacy (see below).

The island’s mass booster vaccination clinic also continues operations at Vashon Methodist Church while demand is high. New safety protocols, including N95 masks for patients and staff, have been deployed at the clinic to enhance patient and worker safety. Vashon Pharmacy operates the booster clinics at the church with volunteer support from the MRC, the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and Community Emergency Operations Team (CERT). Make your appointment at VashonPharmacy.com/COVID.

Vaccinations and boosters are also available from many healthcare providers. Sea Mar clinic and Vashon Natural Medicine request that you call ahead to find out their schedule and how to get the shot. You can also get vaccinations and boosters on the mainland at major medical providers, multiple drug store chains, and King County or City of Seattle vaccination sites. Some of these options are open for drop-ins with no appointment required.

Mask Guidance Update

Public health officials are calling on everyone to upgrade their masks to help contain the spread of Omicron. Now is the time to upgrade from cloth masks used earlier in the pandemic if we can, and opt for better protection — a move that will benefit ourselves and those around us.

Any mask is better than no mask, and it’s worth wearing the best masks we can obtain. Experts recommend masks in the following order of effectiveness:

1. Disposable N95 masks certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), a branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A list of approved masks is at tinyurl.com/NIOSHmasklist. Disposable masks with similar filtration capacities that are certified by non-U.S. governments include FFP2 (Europe), KF94 (Korea), and KN95 (China).

2. Doubled masks, such as a cloth mask over a disposable surgical mask. Surgical masks are loose-fitting masks designed to provide a barrier against large droplets that may contain germs. They are not designed to filter small particles in the air, such as the coronavirus.

3. Disposable surgical masks that meet the national standard (ASTM level 2 or 3).

4. Well-fitting, tightly woven cloth masks with at least two layers.

Fit and filtration capacity are critically important features. For a good fit, a mask needs to fit snugly around your nose and mouth, because gaps allow unfiltered air to leak around the edges. Instructions for putting on a snug-fitting mask and checking the seal are available at tinyurl.com/maskfit1.

For both kids and adults, mask comfort is important for making sure the masks are worn. It may be worth experimenting with different mask designs to find one that works well. In general, N95 masks are not designed to fit children or adults with facial hair.

Recent studies underline the protective benefits of high-grade masks worn properly, reducing the risk of infection to just one in 1,000. A study from Germany’s Max Planck Institute revealed several important findings:

• Even at a 10-foot distance, it takes less than five minutes for an unvaccinated person standing in the breath of a person with COVID-19 to become infected with almost 100 percent certainty.

• The risk of infection drops to almost one in 1,000 if an infected and non-infected person each wears well-fitting FFP2 masks and are just a short distance apart for 20 minutes. The risk of infection increases when masks fit poorly.

• Tight-fitting FFP2 masks provide 75 times better protection compared to well-fitting surgical masks. Other studies show that homemade cloth masks vary widely in their effectiveness, preventing infection from 26% to 79% of the time, so any mask is more effective than no mask.

Where to Buy a Good Mask

A properly fitted N95 is considered the gold standard of protective masks in the United States. While N95s were in short supply earlier in the pandemic, there is better supply now. An N95 mask can usually be found for $1.50 or less. Counterfeit masks have been a problem throughout the pandemic, but you can buy NIOSH-approved masks from reliable vendors:

• Vashon Pharmacy sells NIOSH-approved N95 masks, packaged individually.

• Projectn95.org is a national, nonprofit clearinghouse dedicated to providing personal protective equipment and other essential supplies.

• Several U.S. companies, such as Honeywell, Shawmut, DemeTech, and United States Mask sell their NIOSH-certified masks directly to consumers.

The Centers for Disease Control provides a list of all respirators (N95 masks) approved by NIOSH. View the list at tinyurl.com/NIOSHmasklist.

Latest Vashon COVID Statistics

Source: Public Health — Seattle & King County (PHSKC) and Vashon EOC. Please note: these statistics do not include all recent Vashon cases, due to the lag in posting of data to the PHSKC COVID dashboard.

423 = Total COVID cases for Vashon residents since the pandemic began.

131 = New cases since the last weekly report (159 new cases in 14 days)

9 = Patients hospitalized since the pandemic began.

4 = Deaths since the pandemic began.

93.5% = Vashon residents age 12+ who have been fully vaccinated, compared to 86.0% of the total King County 12+ population.

61.8% = Vashon residents age 12+ who have their booster doses (only those 16+ are eligible for boosters)

61.8% = 5- to 11-year-old Vashon residents with first doses of vaccine (vax number may lag)

For King County, the PHSKC dashboard says unvaccinated people are 2.4 times more likely to get COVID, 13 times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID and 27 times more likely to die of COVID.

For more resources, visit VashonBePrepared.org. Sign up at tinyurl.com/4smk364m to receive email updates from the group, and/or visit VashonBePrepared on Facebook.