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covid increasing in summer

As COVID-19 cases increase in the region, county health officials urge precaution, especially to protect vulnerable populations. Photo by Karlos Garciapons

County’s communicable disease chief urges COVID precautions

COVID-19 cases have been increasing in the early days of summer

Editor’s Note: With a summertime COVID-19 case untick in King County, as across the U.S., local public health officials are urging precautions. Here, Dr. Eric Chow, Chief of Communicable Disease for Public Health—Seattle & King County, talks about the current surge and how to apply the knowledge we’ve gained since the start of the pandemic to family lives and daily activities, particularly at times when COVID-19 is increasing in the community.

What do we know about current COVID-19 rates locally?

Since May, we’ve seen a higher levels of COVID-19 across our metrics including wastewater, emergency department visits, and hospitalizations. This is coming after several months of decreased COVID-19 activity. While COVID-19 may not be on people’s radar right now, it hasn’t gone away.

I am concerned about the increased COVID-19 activity we are seeing as people, especially those who are older or have chronic conditions, can get very sick.

What practical precautions should families take right now, given the COVID-19 increase?

We want people to be able to live their lives fully, so it’s important to think about how to do our daily activities more safely. The steps we’ve all heard about can really make a difference:

  • Wear high-quality, well-fitting masks in crowded settings. I wear a mask while traveling. The last thing I want is to be sick in a hotel room on vacation!
  • Have good airflow. In warmer months, open a window when people are coming over and hold gatherings outside when possible. It’s one of the great joys of living in the Pacific Northwest! Businesses and workplaces also have a role to play by increasing ventilation and filtration.
  • Get a COVID-19 vaccination if you haven’t had a shot since September 2023. Or, if you are 65 or older, get another dose if it’s been more than four months since your last one.

What’s your advice if people do get COVID-19?

When you feel unwell, stay at home until your symptoms are getting better overall and you no longer have a fever for at least 24 hours. For the next five days, take precautions including masking and good hand hygiene. For those 50 and older or have underlying medical conditions that put increased risk for severe COVID-19, it’s important to talk with your doctor about treatment early during your illness.

Many people have some immunity from vaccines or infections. Are precautions really worth it? 

It’s understandable that people are still burnt out on COVID-19 precautions. I’m still concerned because COVID-19 is still here, and whenever infections increase in the community, our vulnerable residents carry a larger burden of the severe disease. Additionally, when someone gets COVID-19, there’s a risk of getting long-term COVID-19.

Long COVID can be debilitating and life-altering, including symptoms such as extreme fatigue, difficulty thinking, pain, and dizziness. These symptoms can last for months or years, and can make it extremely difficult to go to work, school, or carry on with daily life. You can develop long COVID even if you have COVID-19 and have no symptoms or mild illness. It can affect people of all ages, even if you were previously in good health.

Anyone who has had COVID-19 is at risk for long COVID. The way you prevent getting long COVID is by not getting COVID-19 in the first place. Staying up to date with recommended COVID-19 vaccinations can also reduce your risk of long-term COVID-19.

Precautions are also worth it because we continue to have hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19, mainly for older adults, those that have underlying conditions, or who are not vaccinated. Deaths from COVID-19 remain higher than influenza, even at this point in the pandemic.

There will be a new vaccine in the fall. Should people still get an updated vaccine now? 

Given the higher levels of COVID-19 activity right now, it’s a good idea to get a COVID-19 vaccination if you haven’t had a shot since September 2023, so long as vaccines are available. Or, if you are 65 or older, get another dose if it’s been more than four months since your last one.  If you’ve already done that, you’re up to date!

In King County, just 28% of people have received the 2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccine and only 22% of people are up-to-date. Given the increase in COVID right now, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re caught up on vaccination.

Could you clarify what’s considered “up-to-date” with vaccination?

We will have a new formulation in the fall, and (the new vaccine) will be recommended for anyone six months and older. Getting a dose now won’t prevent you from getting the updated vaccination in the fall. COVID-19 is spreading now, so it’s better to get a shot now if you’re not up-to-date.

What else are you concerned about right now?

As more people return to activities we enjoyed before the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing increases in other infections that can very effectively be prevented by vaccines, such as measles and whooping cough. In addition to checking on your COVID-19 vaccine status, it’s a good time to see if you and your family are up-to-date on all your vaccines. This is especially important as part of your travel planning.

Originally published on July 10, 2024 in Public Health Insider

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Public Health—Seattle & King County