SEATTLE — The last mask mandate is set to end in less than a month for those in Washington’s healthcare facilities.
It comes as health officials say COVID-19 rates are continuing to decline, and the federal government prepares to end its pandemic response declaration this May.
So where do things stand now with the virus in Washington-- and can we let our guard down? It's a question on many people's minds as the pandemic’s impacts evolve locally.
On Wednesday, King County officials are slated to give a public health update on COVID-19 in the community. Ahead of this, KING 5 took a look at the data and spoke with local experts to get a clear picture of COVID-19 then, versus now.
"It feels like in the last few weeks, not as many people have been sick," said Matt Binder, co-owner and pharmacist at Ostrom's Drug and Gift in Kenmore.
Washington’s statewide hospitalization data corroborates that. Remember that COVID-19 wave two summers ago, and then that massive Omicron spike that came around Christmas of 2021? Since then, Washington’s hospitalization numbers seem to have calmed down significantly. And an epidemiology leader at the University of Washington told KING 5 Tuesday that unless a new variant develops, he believes immunity we’ve gained from vaccination or past infections will keep things how they are.
“Anything can happen, the virus may still have some tricks up its sleeves," said, Jerry Cangelosi, who works as a professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Washington. Still, he added, “I think it’s leveled off at the level it’s gonna be for a long long time to come... maybe forever.”
Meanwhile, in pharmacies, Binder said there has also been a shift at the vaccine counter.
"I'd say it’s gone down quite a bit," said Binder.
Binder said demand has decreased for the COVID-19 vaccine. From October to February, Ostrom’s saw a 91% decrease in COVID-19 shots administered.
"Most people who are interested in getting that vaccine have gotten it taken care of by now," said Binder. "Many people were getting it the same time as their flu shot which was really easy to do.”
In October, the Bivalent vaccine booster had also just been introduced for authorized use, as Binder pointed out.
Nonetheless, going forward, Cangelosi recommends getting boosted every six months or so. He added, "Testing is still a really good idea.” He also said he hopes people use their best judgment when it comes to masking up.
King County’s COVID-19 public health update will start at 11 a.m. Wednesday, and will be led by a doctor with Seattle and King County’s Communicable Disease and Epidemiology program.