Wastewater data provides hopeful sign in surge

COVID virus levels have been declining in the test samples from King and Pierce county wastewater treatment plants.

As we move into 2023, we spotted a hopeful sign in our pandemic monitoring program. COVID virus levels have been declining in the test samples from King and Pierce county wastewater treatment plants.

There are five sewersheds being tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in King and Pierce counties and virus levels in all of them are trending down. Less COVID is a good thing.

Wastewater testing helps fill a gap in COVID monitoring. As helpful as home rapid tests have been, they have a disadvantage. Unlike the early days of the pandemic when all tests were analyzed by laboratories that reported results to the state, home test results are rarely reported through public health channels.

Wastewater surveillance helps by giving us insight into the level of COVID infection in the community without relying on case reports. Local public health authorities conduct the wastewater surveillance and report the test results to the National Wastewater Surveillance System operated by the CDC.

COVID Risk Remains Elevated

Despite the hopeful signs from wastewater monitoring, COVID hospitalizations continue at a concerning rate.

The VashonBePrepared COVID Risk Advice Tool remains in the yellow Elevated Risk zone. It has been at that level since shortly after Thanksgiving when the annual period of holiday gatherings and travel began. It would be very good news if the wastewater monitoring trend pans out and the holiday season COVID surge stopped short of the High-Risk level.

Although the primary metric for the risk advice tool is the hospitalization rate, the VashonBePrepared risk estimate also takes into account additional data, such as the rate of new cases and the test positivity rate. The experts of the Vashon Medical Reserve Corps play a key role in helping set the risk level and providing COVID safety advice.

The data for the risk advice tool draws on the state Department of Health’s COVID dashboard. We aggregate the three counties of King, Pierce, and Kitsap because Vashon residents commute in large numbers to all three for work, school, shopping, and medical care. In fact, ferry system statistics show the equivalent of one-third of the island’s population makes round-trip ferry journeys to the mainland each day.

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

People who are unvaccinated, and/or at high risk from COVID, and/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 you are at risk from COVID for health reasons, and/or you live and 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.

VashonBePrepared also recommends that you

  • 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 five full days after the onset of COVID symptoms (or positive test if asymptomatic). Remain isolated until you test negative. 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 5 days. If immunocompromised, discuss additional prevention actions with your healthcare provider.

New Combo Test Available at School District

Students, staff, and families at Vashon Island School District (VISD) now have a way to answer the question: Is it COVID or flu?

The District has started offering the BD Veritor test that checks for COVID as well as seasonal influenza. The rapid test works like the Binax or iHealth tests that have become familiar during the pandemic. There’s a nasal swab and a 15-minute wait for a small machine to read the test.

The combo tests are available at the District’s drop-in site next to the Student Link building at the high school. For more information on the procedure, check out the District’s COVID testing web page, at bit.ly/VISD-testing.

Safety Tip of the Week: Don’t Drive in High Water, Especially Salt Water

As 2022 was ending, unusually high King Tides, combined with heavy rain and other weather factors, inundated multiple shoreline locations around Vashon. Dramatic photos showed water over a number of roadways. Driving through floodwaters can both damage your vehicle and risk your safety.

Electrical systems, electronic components, brakes, steering mechanisms, wheel bearings, and other car parts all can be damaged by salt water. If you do end up driving through salt water, wash everything down with fresh water when you get home. Don’t let the salt sit. And, consider checking with your mechanic for further advice.

Better yet, find a dry detour in the first place.