Tripledemic: It’s Not Just About COVID

Seasonal influenza (flu) and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) have arrived much earlier this year compared to pre-pandemic years.

Editor’s Note: This public health report by VashonBePrepared is available in Spanish at

Seasonal influenza (flu) and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) have arrived much earlier this year compared to pre-pandemic years.

That means the tripledemic is a real issue now. Even if you test negative for COVID, if you have symptoms it’s important to stay home to avoid spreading the other two tripledemic diseases.

Children’s hospitals in our region have been overwhelmed as they try to care for an unusually high number of children with RSV. Many pediatricians are calling it “our COVID-19.” It’s also important to understand that RSV can be very serious for seniors or anyone with a compromised immune system. Likewise, flu kills tens of thousands of people each year in the U.S., mostly among the elderly or those with pre-existing health problems.

  • If you develop respiratory symptoms, test for COVID right away. The antiviral treatment Paxlovid can prevent severe disease in high-risk people, but it must be started within five days of the onset of symptoms. So call your healthcare provider promptly to discuss a prescription. If you have symptoms but test negative, stay home until you test negative a second time after 48 hours (because the newer Omicron variants are often not detected with home tests in the early phase of infection).
  • Take a home test for COVID before your holiday gathering. It’s a smart and extremely effective way to avoid spreading COVID to friends and family. If you’re hosting, talk with guests in advance about your COVID (and flu and RSV) safety plan.
  • While traveling, wear a well-fitting N95 face mask. That will help you avoid getting infected and spreading diseases to your family and friends. Bring extra masks in case none are available at your destination.
  • There’s no home test for flu or RSV, but two of the tripledemic diseases can be prevented or mitigated with vaccinations. So, get vaccinated against the flu and get the new bivalent Omicron booster.

The BQ Varients Have Arrived

Two new Omicron variants now dominate infections in the United States — BQ.1 and BQ.1.1. The new BQ mutations make up more than half of COVID infections in this country. Their ancestor, the BA.5 variant, has dropped to less than one-fourth of all cases.

  • It is not yet clear whether these new BQ variants cause more serious disease, but they are more infectious than previous variants because they are better at evading the human immune system.
  • COVID vaccines, including the new Omicron-targeted bivalent booster, work against BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, as documented in studies released by Pfizer and Moderna.

Are We Surging? It Depends on Who You Ask

The White House COVID Response Coordinator says a holiday-season surge is unlikely.

That would be great news if it pans out. And, the VashonBePrepared COVID Risk Advice Tool so far is holding at the Basic Risk Level (see details below). Again, that’s good news. However, many public health experts are still predicting a surge and cases are already spiking in some parts of the country.

For example, COVID cases and hospitalizations have spiked so sharply in Los Angeles county that the county’s public health agency has increased its guidance to “strongly recommend” everyone wear a mask in all indoor public settings. That’s a strong indication that the widely expected surge has already spread to the west coast.

White House COVID Response Coordinator, Ashish Jha, explained his prediction that a surge is unlikely by pointing out that we are in a different place than a year ago. Millions more of us have built up protection against serious COVID infections by being vaccinated, recently having had COVID, or both.

Another difference from a year ago: wide availability of no-cost home antigen tests has helped people avoid spreading COVID, although that has made tracking infection rates more difficult because most positive test results aren’t reported to public health agencies.

This Week’s Safety Tip: Get a Headlamp

Shorter days have arrived, and you may be one of the thousands of Vashon folks leaving for the ferry in the dark and coming home in the dark.

Or maybe you are out walking or running before dawn. Perhaps you need to get wood off the pile in the dark for the fireplace. You need a headlamp!

Headlamps help you stay safe because they leave your hands free, unlike handheld flashlights. You will save battery life because you won’t need to use your cell phone flashlight or your car interior light while waiting in the ferry line. Headlamps make great holiday gifts. And you can stay warm and cozy on chilly nights because headlamps are great for reading under the covers!

COVID Risk Level: Holding at Basic Level

The hospitalization rate for our tri-county area of King, Pierce, and Kitsap continues below the benchmark of 3.5 COVID hospitalizations per week per 100,000 population. We will be monitoring this closely in the coming weeks based on past years of the pandemic when our community experienced COVID spikes as people celebrated holidays indoors.

This Basic 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. One-third of the island population takes a round-trip ferry ride to the mainland each day.

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

Basic Risk Level Advice

  • Wear N95 mask indoors in public if you have been exposed to COVID, and/or are at risk for health or other reasons, and/or you live or spend time with someone at high risk.
  • Keep vaccinations up to date, including boosters.
  • Maintain good ventilation at home and at work.
  • Avoid those 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 days and until you test negative.
  • If immunocompromised, discuss additional prevention actions with your healthcare provider.

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