For the third year in a row, the holiday season COVID surge has arrived on Vashon.
The VashonBePrepared COVID Risk Advice Tool has been moved up to Elevated Risk. The community advice for the Elevated Risk level is listed below.
The COVID hospitalization rate for our tri-county area of King, Pierce, and Kitsap shot up to almost 5 hospitalizations per week per 100,000 population over the last week. That’s significantly over the threshold rate of 3.5 which marks the upper limit of the Basic Risk rating.
This news confirms the prediction of a holiday season COVID surge made over the last few months by many public health experts, including the Vashon Medical Reserve Corps (MRC).
“It’s not easy for all of us to accept that there could be anything bad about getting together for Thanksgiving. Nevertheless, we’re now beginning the holiday COVID surge that we’ve seen in the two previous years of the pandemic,” said Dr. Jim Bristow, a member of the leadership team for the MRC. “There is undeniably an increased risk of COVID when a group of people sits close to each other around a table indoors. There are ways to mitigate that risk, but it will not be zero risk.”
This Elevated Risk Level assessment is based on data from the state Department of Health’s COVID dashboard. The risk estimate has been customized to Vashon’s particular situation because it takes into account that Vashon is in a three-county COVID exposure pool —King, Pierce, and Kitsap.
Over 3,000 people take a round-trip ferry ride to or from the mainland each day. That’s equivalent to almost one-third of the island population. Therefore, the metrics from the three counties are blended to take into account the island’s regional COVID exposure risk.
For more information on the methodology behind Vashon’s COVID Risk Advice Tool, please see: conta.cc/3s1am63
Advice for the Current Elevated Risk Level
- At this 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 at risk for 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.
- 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.
- 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 5 days and until you test negative.
- If you are immunocompromised, discuss additional prevention actions with your healthcare provider.
Omicron Bivalent Vaccines Are Working
A new CDC study demonstrates that the updated bivalent Omicron-targeted booster increases protection against symptomatic COVID infection. The finding is based on the first real-world field clinical data since the bivalent vaccines were released. It confirms laboratory studies conducted prior to the release of the vaccine in September.
The study looked at 360,000 adult patients in the U.S. with COVID-like symptoms who came to partnering pharmacies for COVID testing between Sept. 14 and Nov. 11. Patients who had received the bivalent booster exhibited significantly greater protection from COVID infection than those who had only received the old monovalent vaccine.
The study also confirmed that the effectiveness of monovalent COVID vaccinations decreased with time and emphasized the importance of staying current with recommended boosters. Get more study details at bit.ly/CDCbivalentStudy.
The nation’s top infectious disease advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, urged everyone to bring their vaccinations up-to-date by getting the Omicron-targeted bivalent booster. Protection from your previous vaccination and from contracting COVID wanes, so Dr. Fauci emphasized the importance of getting this additional protection now, as we enter the high exposure period of holiday gatherings and travel.
If it has been 4 months or more since your most recent vaccination or COVID-19 infection, there is a significant benefit to getting the bivalent booster.
Vashon has a strong record of vaccinations compared to the rest of King County, but more than half of islanders are not yet up to date on their COVID vaccinations. Most who still need the new bivalent booster or even primary doses are younger than 65, but one-third of Vashon’s senior citizens have not yet received the new booster.
COVID vaccinations are easily available at no cost for people ages 3 and older by making an appointment at vashonpharmacy.com/covid-vaccine. Drop-ins are welcome at Vashon Pharmacy and the Sea Mar clinic. For pharmacy vaccinations, you will save time by making an appointment first.
Young children (ages 6 months through 2 years) are also eligible for COVID vaccinations but are not eligible for vaccination at Vashon Pharmacy. Instead, their parent or guardian should contact their primary care provider to schedule a vaccination appointment.
No-Charge Test Kits Continue in Washington
It’s a good idea to do a home COVID test before gathering indoors for parties and other holiday festivities. If you test positive, stay home to avoid infecting friends and family.
Washington State Department of Health says 10 tests remain available per month at least through the end of this year (even though the federal free test program has stopped). That means you can get ten kits from the state right now, by going to SayYesCOVIDhometest.org.
Seasonal Flu Spiking
The state Department of Health (DOH) has issued an alert regarding seasonal influenza (flu). Infection rates began rising earlier than usual this year and continue to rise sharply. Flu hospitalizations are at their highest rate in decades for this time of the year. The situation has been complicated by the simultaneous occurrence of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). There’s no vaccine for RSV, but there is an easily obtained vaccine for the flu.
“Our state’s pediatric healthcare system is overloaded with extremely high numbers of children with respiratory infections,” said Dr. Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, chief science officer for DOH. “Families urgently need to do everything they can to keep everyone healthy and avoid the need for healthcare, and a flu vaccination is one of the most important prevention tools.”
Winter Driving Refresher
Winter doesn’t officially arrive until Dec. 21, but you could have fooled us. The first snowfall of the season means it’s time for a refresher on safe winter driving.
You need to be able to see. Clear snow and ice from windows, headlights, tail lights, and the backup camera before driving away. Taking this time may help prevent an accident. Clearing snow off your vehicle’s roof prevents it from blowing off while driving and creating a hazard for other drivers.
Slow down. Wet, icy, or snowy roads can make it harder to stop or steer. Slow speed reduces the risk of an accident and damage if an accident does occur. So, allow extra time to get to your destination and give yourself extra following distance.
Carry safety and comfort essentials.You could have a breakdown, get stuck, or be in an accident. Carry a reflective vest in your car and check the “go bag” you keep in your car. If you don’t have one, now is a perfect time to assemble one. Here are a couple of excellent lists: bit.ly/WSDOTwinterList and bit.ly/AARPwinterList.
Stay with your car and be seen. If you are stuck somewhere in wintry weather, stay with your car. Be seen by putting on your flashers or by putting out emergency triangles. Run your car for 10 minutes every hour to keep the battery charged so you can charge your phone and keep warm. However, be wary of carbon monoxide poisoning: make sure your exhaust pipe is not obstructed and don’t run the car in an enclosed space.
Use common sense. Wear your seatbelts. Use age- and size-appropriate child seats. Even though it’s holiday party season, never drive after drinking. Let at least one person know your route and when you expect to call or text to say you’ve arrived.
A quick Google search will give you lots more info on driving safely in winter weather. Here’s just one example from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — bit.lyNHTSAwinterTips.
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