OLYMPIA, Wash. — Along with road closures, flight cancellations and impassable driveways, Washington State Health Secretary Dr. Umair Shaw is concerned about what impact the recent winter storms might have on the state’s COVID-19 caseload.
“It concerns me,” Shah said Tuesday. “I cannot say that I'm going to have any respite from this until you know, a few weeks after the new year, because we've got a lot of things stacking up.”
The bad weather closed a number of testing clinics in King County Monday.
Shah said as long as it’s safe, someone can drive out of their area to get a test if they are concerned about a recent exposure or symptoms.
Otherwise, Shah said, those concerned about possibly having COVID should isolate at home or at least wear masks around others.
“I think the weather has thrown a wrench into things. But remember, this weather is going to pass,” said Shah. “This is really important for us to just keep all those tools in mind, especially as we get to New Year's.”
Shah said despite Mother Nature’s plans, the same rules apply for preventing the spread of COVID.
For those attending end-of-the-year celebrations, Shah recommended keeping gatherings small and wearing masks when inside or close to other guests.
“2021 was hard. We want to put it behind us. This weather that's kicking our tails right now, we want to put that behind us” said Shah. “As you are commemorating, as you're celebrating it, celebrate responsibly. You know, all the things that you can do to keep yourself and your loved ones protected – let's do those things.”
According to the latest figures released by the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) on Monday, the number of COVID cases continues to rise in Washington. On Christmas Eve, Washington reported 6,235 new COVID-19 cases, which is a record number of new daily cases, according to DOH data.
While the hospitalization rate has plateaued, Jacqueline Barton True, a vice president with the Washington State Hospital Association, said the icy conditions are causing staff shortages.
“It exacerbates staffing concerns for our already very full hospitals when staff can’t make it in for their shifts," said Barton True. "Overall we’re seeing a big increase in omicron, and throughout the pandemic, we have seen hospitalizations lag infections. We’re concerned what this rise in cases coupled with holiday gatherings will mean for statewide capacity in the weeks to come."
The state’s death rate attributed to COVID cases has dropped from the recent peak in the early fall, but Shah said that can be a misleading figure as well.
“Deaths, that is a lagging indicator; it comes later,” said Shah. “So we cannot, under any stretch of the imagination, we cannot let off the guard. We have to do everything we can.”