CDC improves Tri-Cities COVID rating. But major outbreak is reported in the area

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Despite an increase in COVID-19 cases in Franklin County, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has improved its community rating in the Tri-Cities area for the coming week to “medium.”

That means that thousands of workers at the Hanford nuclear reservation site and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland will not be required to wear masks to protect against COVID-19 in the coming workweek, after three weeks of the masks being required indoors.

The better CDC rating, an improvement from “high,” does not mean the Tri-Cities area is in the clear.

Four more people have died of complications of COVID-19 in the Tri-Cities area, and the concentration of genetic material from coronavirus found in untreated municipal wastewater is higher than it was in the winter omicron peak.

In addition, the new case rate for residents of Franklin County has risen sharply in part because of an outbreak of COVID-19 at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center.

It has contributed to the highest case rate for the Tri-Cities area since winter.

Mask recommendations

The CDC bases its COVID-19 community rate not only on confirmed new cases but also hospital beds used by patients with COVID and hospital admissions for people with the disease.

When the CDC community rating is “medium,” it recommends that people at high risk for disease discuss with their doctor wearing a mask and other precautions. People in contact with those at high risk also should consider wearing a mask indoors.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rates Benton and Franklin county’s COVID-19 community transmission level as “medium.” On the map, green is low, yellow is medium and orange is high.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rates Benton and Franklin county’s COVID-19 community transmission level as “medium.” On the map, green is low, yellow is medium and orange is high.

Now all but Pend Oreille and Adams County in Washington state have “medium” or “low” community COVID-19 levels.

It may be OK at times not to wear masks, said Dr. Umair Shah, Washington state secretary of health, acknowledging that fewer people in the state are wearing them.

But if you are in a crowded indoor space without good ventilation, wearing a mask remains a good idea, he said.

He also recommended during a Thursday news briefing that keeping windows open or good ventilation indoors helps reduce the transmission of the virus.

Tri-Cities COVID cases

The Washington state Department of Corrections reported a facility wide outbreak starting July 29 at Coyote Ridge prison in Connell in Franklin County.

Over the past two weeks 171 prisoners there and 32 staff members have had the virus, according to the state.

Dr. Umair Shah, Washington state secretary of health, urges older people and those with significant medical issues to get their COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.
Dr. Umair Shah, Washington state secretary of health, urges older people and those with significant medical issues to get their COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.

Seven units are on quarantine, it said.

The new cases account for 11% of COVID-19 cases to date in prisoners and 5% of staff cases at Coyote Ridge.

Those cases have contributed to an increase in new confirmed cases in Franklin County, but there are also significant numbers of new cases elsewhere in the county, said Annie Goodwin, operations deputy chief for the Tri-Cities based health district.

“This particular surge is not skipping anyone,” she said.

The confirmed new case rate in Franklin County is 424 new cases per 100,000 people over seven days. It is up from 86 at the start of June and 171 at the start of July.

In Benton County the confirmed new case rate is 231 new cases per 100,000 over seven days. It is up from 92 at the start of June and 155 at the start of July.

The combined case rate for both counties is 293.

A screenshot from the Benton Franklin Health District website shows concentrations of the coronavirus in Tri-Cities wastewater higher than during the original omicron peak of cases this past winter.
A screenshot from the Benton Franklin Health District website shows concentrations of the coronavirus in Tri-Cities wastewater higher than during the original omicron peak of cases this past winter.

The concentration of coronavirus in Tri-Cities municipal wastewater is down some from two weeks ago, but still remains higher than its peak in January. The concentration detected has been generally increasing since March.

The Benton Franklin Health District and Washington state Department of Health started their wastewater sampling program in fall 2021, checking wastewater from Kennewick, Pasco, Richland and West Richland.

Tri-Cities deaths

The four recent COVID-19 deaths just announced for the Tri-Cities area were all older Benton County residents.

They included two women and a man in their 80s and a man in his 70s.

The Benton Franklin Health District announces deaths from complications of COVID-19 once a week, usually on Thursdays.

Washington state Department of Health data shows a recent drop in hospitalized COVID-19 cases in the state.
Washington state Department of Health data shows a recent drop in hospitalized COVID-19 cases in the state.

In July, the agency announced 12 recent deaths, up from the seven to nine deaths reported each of the previous three months. Two-thirds of the deaths in July were people in their 80s and 90s.

It is particularly important that older people and also people with significant medical issues not only get vaccinated for COVID-19, but also keep up with recommended booster shots, Shah said during the Thursday news briefing.

In Benton County, 50% of people eligible for a booster shot have received one and in Franklin County that drops to 42%. Statewide 58% of eligible people have received at least one booster shot.

Long-term care outbreaks

Long-term care facilities and adult family homes are struggling again with increased outbreaks, according to the latest Unified Situation Report from the Benton Franklin Health District and Benton and Franklin counties emergency management.

The outbreaks are attributed to the higher disease activity in the Tri-Cities area in the past month, low booster rates for residents, and low vaccination and booster rates for staff, the report said.

In July, there were nine outbreaks in long-term care facilities, and eight more of them were on a watch list for outbreaks, the report said.

In addition there was one outbreak in a health care setting and another pending investigation.

The recent Tri-Cities area deaths bring the total since the start of the pandemic to 709, including 493 deaths of Benton County residents and 216 deaths of Franklin County residents.

Statewide hospitalized cases of COVID-19 have started to come down from the peak of the last couple of weeks, Shah said.

Although the number of hospital cases in Benton and Franklin counties still remains higher than a month ago, Eastern Washington trends often lag statewide trends.