Marking a new milestone: COVID’s three-year mark

VashonBePrepared offers advice for current risk level, news about a possible switch to once-a-year vaccination, a new hotline number for suicide prevention, and more.

Three years ago, on Feb. 20, 2020, doctors in Snohomish County diagnosed the first COVID case on U.S. soil.

Much has changed since then.

• Many of us have had COVID at least once, at least 50% nationwide, according to a Harvard University survey.

• We had no vaccine three years ago. Now, on Vashon, nearly 52% of those eligible have had the latest Omicron-targeted bivalent booster. That’s the highest up-to-date rate for any King County community, about one-and-a-half times the vaccination rate for King County residents overall.

• Six Vashon residents are known to have died from COVID. Nationally, 1.1 million people have died from COVID. Deaths have been rising again lately, after dropping to around 350 per day over the last several months. More recently, more than 500 people have been dying from COVID each day in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

• Vashon residents, who were once strong on masking, have increasingly been dropping their guard by dropping their masks, despite the current Elevated Risk level.

The Future: a Shift to Annual Shot?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that it is considering a simplification of the national COVID vaccination program, in hopes that will improve the percentage of people who get the shot. Americans may be offered a single dose of a COVID vaccine each fall, much like the flu shot campaigns we see each year. The FDA has recently launched the evaluation process for this potential new approach.

Many public health experts are saying the current system confuses people by offering multiple vaccines, with complex recommendations for vaccination depending on an array of different age and risk groups. Other experts note that more real-world data will be needed before the annual vaccination concept can be implemented with confidence.

COVID Risk Level: Elevated

The yellow Elevated Risk level remains in effect. That’s based on the hospitalization rate in our three-county COVID risk assessment area. The risk level rating also takes into account the new case rate, the positive test rate, and COVID virus levels in wastewater tested by regional public health departments.

At this Elevated Risk level, it’s smart for everyone to wear an N95 mask indoors in public.

People who are unvaccinated, at high risk from COVID, or living with someone at high risk should avoid non-essential indoor public activities.

If you must be indoors in a public place, it’s extremely important to wear an N95 mask if you are unvaccinated; and/or are at risk from COVID for health reasons; and/or live or spend time with someone at risk from COVID, and/or are regularly exposed to COVID risk in work or group settings such as retail, school, or commuting.

It is also recommended to test at home before gathering with friends and family; get the bivalent COVID vaccine if you have not already done so; maintain good ventilation at home and at work, and avoid individuals with suspected or confirmed COVID.

If exposed to COVID, wear a mask in public and avoid contact with those at high risk for 10 days.

Always home-test if you have symptoms. If you test positive, isolate for at least five full days after the onset of COVID symptoms (or positive test if asymptomatic), remain isolated until you test negative, and avoid those at risk and wear a mask when indoors around others for 10 full days after the onset of COVID symptoms or a positive test — even if testing negative after five days.

If you are immunocompromised, discuss additional prevention actions with your healthcare provider.

New Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 988 is Working

A three-digit number to call, chat, or text has dramatically improved the usage of the nation’s Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

The three-digit 988 number replaces the old number that required remembering and dialing 10 digits to reach help.

As a result, Lifeline usage has increased by more than 40%. A recent study that analyzed data for two identical five-month periods in 2021 and 2022 showed that calls to the Lifeline increased by half a million calls to a total of 1.7 million calls. The new more robust system has also reduced the time to connect someone to help — from close to three minutes down to 36 seconds.

“We have all gone through so much in the last three years — we know … that the pandemic has put people under stress, leading to anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation,” said Jinna Risdal, PhD, who is the coordinator of the Community Care Team, a unit of Vashon Medical Reserve Corps. “The old Lifeline system already did much good, saving many lives, and this new network and three-digit number makes a big improvement by quickly getting people on the line with counselors.”

The original Lifeline phone number (1-800-273-8255) is still available to people in emotional distress or suicidal crisis.

The Lifeline’s network of over 200 crisis centers has been in operation since 2005. Find out more here.

Safety Tip: Sign Up For Emergency Alerts

When a big storm is on the way or an earthquake shakes the island, you’ll need information on what’s happening so you can take care of yourself and the people in your household.

There’s good news: Getting emergency information can be as simple as checking your email if you sign up for emergency alerts. But signing up in the midst of chaos would be…well, chaotic. So get ahead of the game by signing up now using this handy guide.

Island Emergency Alert System: For many years, the Voice of Vashon Emergency Alert System has been a go-to source of island information. Sign up here.

The system provides a one-stop source of information for severe weather updates and emergency services including emergency shelter locations, COVID vaccination information, and sources of emergency food and water after an earthquake or other island-wide or regional event.

It also provides alerts for water system outages, significant ferry delays and cancellations, and road reports.

Vashon Weather: Get official weather information customized for Vashon from the National Weather Service here.

King County: Alert King County gives you regional public information and notifications. At this county website, you can also sign up for King County Roads alerts, flood alerts, and Metro transit alerts including King County Water Taxi alerts.

Earthquake Warnings: There is an earthquake early warning system that may give you a few seconds to duck, cover, and hold. It’s a smartphone app, available at

Ferry Services: Are you already getting service alerts from Washington State Ferries? If not, go to this link to sign up.