Covid blog: Don't get in a tizzy about stealth omicron variant, health experts say
Updated news about the coronavirus pandemic in Seattle and Washington state.
According to data from King County and Washington state departments of health, as of Thursday, February 3, 2022:
- +1,487 new cases since Wednesday in King County. That's -46% over the last seven days.
- +30 new hospitalizations since Wednesday in King County. That's an 11% decrease over the past seven days.
- 16% decrease in deaths over the past two weeks, with six people dying every day in King County.
- 78.1% of King County residents are fully vaccinated.
- 10,845 Covid-19 related deaths across Washington state; 1% death rate since the beginning of the pandemic.
Over-the-counter Covid tests will soon be free for Medicare recipients
Medicare and Medicare Advantage recipients will be eligible for free over-the-counter Covid-19 tests beginning in early spring, the Biden administration announced on Thursday.
The plan will allow for up to eight tests a month, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said in a media release Thursday.
Medicare is the federal health insurance program for Americans aged 65 and older, some younger Americans with disabilities and those with certain illnesses.
"This is the first time that Medicare has covered an over-the-counter test at no cost to beneficiaries," CMS wrote in the release.
"There are a number of issues that have made it difficult to cover and pay for over-the-counter Covid-19 tests. However, given the importance of expanding access to testing, CMS has identified a pathway that will expand access to free over-the-counter testing for Medicare beneficiaries."
The Biden administration has faced criticism for its handling of certain aspects of the pandemic, including for its response to providing free, easily accessible testing for all Americans.
In response, the federal government announced that beginning earlier this year, Americans would be able to request four, free at-home tests to be delivered directly to their doors. The administration purchased a half-billion tests to support that effort.
Read more here.
—Alana Wise, NPR
Fourth Covid vaccine dose recommended for some immunocompromised people, DOH says
State health officials are recomming a fourth Covid shot for some people with weakened immune systems. They say a fourth shot could help prevent serious and life-threatening cases of covid for this population.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that people ages 5 and up who are moderately to severely immunocompromised receive a third shot, 28 days out from their first two shots if they received the Pfizer vaccine. For immunocompromised people 18 and up who receive the Moderna vaccine, the same dosage window is recommended.
A fourth (booster) shot is recommended for all immunocompromised people 5 and up five months out from their primary mRNA shots. For people 18 and up who receive the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the CDC recommends a third (booster) dose with an mRNA vaccine two months later.
People are considered moderately to severely immunocompromised by the CDC if they have:
- Been getting active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood
- Received an organ transplant and are taking medicine to suppress their immune system
- Received a stem cell transplant within the past two years or are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
- Moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (such as DiGeorge syndrome or Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome)
- Advanced or untreated HIV
- Active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that may suppress the immune response
—Liz Brazile, KUOW
About that stealth omicron variant
You might have heard about a new omicron “sub-variant” of the coronavirus.
So far, BA.2 is believed to spread more easily than the original omicron variant.
But it does not appear to cause more severe disease, and vaccines are just as effective against it, said Scott Lindquist, the state epidemiologist.
“There’s a lot of question about the subvariant of omicron; it is the same virus, it is the same variant," Lindquist said. "It’s just a twist on the same omicron variant that we’ve seen the whole time.”
Lindquist said people should not be concerned about a new surge.
“I don’t want to chase our tails with reporting numbers of every subvariant because every variant has a subvariant. I’m not so interested in this one unless it has clinical implications, which it has not.”
Washington’s Covid case rates are expected to continue trending downward.
The state health department notes that hospitalization rates for unvaccinated patients were five times higher for people younger than 35.
It’s eight times higher for those 65 and older.
—Ruby de Luna, KUOW
QFC and Fred Meyer get supply of free N95 masks to hand out
Pharmacies at western Washington QFC and Fred Meyer stores will have free N95 masks on hand while supplies last, staring Thursday, February 3.
Each customer can get up to three non-surgical N95 masks upon request. The mask are far better at filtering air than cloth masks, and protect the wearer more.
“QFC is grateful for the ongoing role we’re able to play in helping help our associates and customers protect themselves and their communities against Covid-19,” said Chris Albi, president of QFC. “We have many accessible stores across the region and invite our customers to visit to pick up free non-surgical respirator masks for their household.”
Parent company Kroger is hyping the mask giveaway as the "largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history."
Dr. Marc Watkins, Kroger’s chief medical officer, said that the company is proud to "continue our partnership the Biden Administration and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to reduce the spread of the aggressive omicron variant in the communities we serve.”
The free mask giveaway is not exclusive to QFC and Fred Meyer. The federal government is supplying pharmacies and community groups with N95 masks across the country, with the goal of increase protection against Covid, especially as the more transmissible omicron variant continues to spread, placing a strain on the hospital system. Check with your local pharmacy about the availability of free masks.
— Dyer Oxley, KUOW