New wave of COVID cases worries medical professionals

Island County COVID-19 cases are spiking due to the delta variant and a low vaccination rate.

Island County is experiencing a fifth wave of COVID-19 cases due to the emergence of the delta variant strain and a continued low rate of vaccinations in the community, according to county Health Officer Howard Leibrand.

There was a 600 percent increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases a week from roughly the beginning of July to the end, Island County reported.

This sudden increase in new cases is alarming medical professionals on the island. Eight pediatricians and nurse practitioners sent a statement to The Record urging everyone age 12 and older to get vaccinated.

“A number of these cases have been children, one of whom is hospitalized and seriously ill,” the letter states. “So far in this pandemic children have been blessed by being less likely to catch and spread the illness and less likely to become seriously ill if they do catch it. We feel that we can no longer count on that as we head towards the new school year.”

The entire statement can be read on page A4.

Two children in 4-H tested positive for the virus after the Whidbey Island Fair, which ran July 15-18. Reporters at the fair saw that most of the 4-Hers were not wearing masks.

Dan McCarty, the county’s 4-H coordinator, said in an email he recommended the kids wear masks when indoors, but fair management decided that it should be the family’s choice. Right after the fair ended, the state came out with new mandates for masks at indoor 4-H events.

WhidbeyHealth Medical Center officials warned that the hospital in Coupeville, as well as “sister hospitals” on the Interstate 5 corridor, are nearing capacity as COVID-19 cases dramatically rise in the region.

“Simply put, people are getting sick,” a hospital statement says, “and very soon there will not be enough patient beds available to treat everyone — whether seeking care at WhidbeyHealth, another hospital, or transfer to another hospital if more advanced care is required.”

About a quarter of current inpatients at WhidbeyHealth Medical Center were there due to COVID-19, according to hospital spokesperson Conor O’Brien.

This week, Leibrand was one of many health officers in the state to advise people to start wearing masks again indoors in public spaces regardless of vaccination status. He said his concerns are with the number of people who aren’t vaccinated as well as the delta variant, which he said is much more contagious and more dangerous.

The state Department of Health announced this week that K-12 students will be required to wear masks when they return to classes in the fall.

The number of new cases in the county spiked in July. In the week ending July 22, the county reported 64 new confirmed cases. There were 38 new cases the prior week.

In comparison, the week ending July 1 had only 10 new cases.

Leibrand said the bulk of the new cases are people who are unvaccinated, though there have been a few breakthrough cases. This is reflected in the average 95 percent efficacy rate of the three vaccines currently available. That’s still more effective than other vaccines — such as the one for mumps — though they were fine-tuned over the years.

At the same time, the number of people getting COVID-19 vaccinations in the county has slowed.

As of the July 22 report, 46.9 percent of the county’s total population was fully vaccinated, although that number does not include numbers from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. Still, it’s not much of a change; a month ago, the county reported 45.5 percent of the population was fully vaccinated. Island County’s rate is significantly below the state average of 52 percent.

County data shows Oak Harbor vaccination rates are dragging down the county’s average; but again, much of that is likely because the Navy vaccines aren’t included in the totals.

The Pentagon reported at the end of June that 77 percent of active-duty sailors received at least one dose of a vaccine. It’s the highest rate among branches of the military.

The state reports that 56 percent of people in the state, 52.7 percent in the county and 40 percent of people in Oak Harbor fall into that category.

Freeland has the highest rate, with over 70 percent of the population having had at least one shot. Langley isn’t far behind.

Leibrand said he believes that the spread of disinformation about the vaccines is behind much of the hesitation. He and the other medical professionals on the island point out that the vaccines are extraordinarily effective and safe, even against the variants.

“Literally hundreds of millions of doses have been given with remarkably few side effects,” the physicans wrote. “Several of them are extraordinarily effective.

If enough people in the community get vaccinated, it greatly increases the likelihood that all of us will be safe.”

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