Signs of COVID-19 in the Tri-Cities declined over the last week, but there were still three more deaths due to the disease.
The Benton Franklin Health District reported Thursday the lowest concentration of genetic material from the coronavirus in more than a month.
However, concentrations were still high compared to the early spring when a steep increase began that continued through July.
The rate of confirmed new cases also has dropped in the Tri-Cities area, in part because the COVID-19 outbreak at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell has waned.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rated the COVID-19 community level in Benton County as “low” and the level in Franklin County as “medium.”
The weekly rating, released Thursday evening, means that COVID-19 masks are optional at the Hanford nuclear reservation site and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Hanford’s historic B Reactor, part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, is reopening for tours not that CDC ratings have improved.
Register at manhattanprojectbreactor.hanford.gov. Call 509-376-1647 for more information.
Tri-Cities COVID cases
The new case rate for Franklin County dropped from 424 new cases per 100,000 people in seven days a week ago to 223 on Thursday.
At the same time the number of inmates at the Coyote Ridge prison with COVID-19 dropped from 171 to 10. However, there are still 32 staff members with active cases, up from 31 a week ago.
The new case rate for Benton and Franklin counties combined is 205 new cases per 100,000 over seven days. It is the lowest rate in almost three weeks, but it is still higher than the rate of 140 recorded a month ago.
The Centers for Disease Control bases its COVID-19 community level rates not only on new case rates, but also hospital beds used by patients with COVID and hospital admissions for people with the disease.
When the CDC community rating is “medium,” as it is in Franklin County, the CDC recommends those at high risk of getting very sick wear a mask when indoors in public. It makes no mask recommendation when levels are rated as “low” as they are in Benton County.
Just two counties in Washington state remain rated as high, Asotin and Garfield in the southeast corner of the state. Fifteen counties are rated as “medium” and 22 are rated as “low.”
Hospitalization rates in the Tri-Cities area have not dropped with the decline in new case rates and wastewater concentrations.
By the Benton Franklin Health District’s latest data, 36 patients were admitted for treatment of COVID-19 in a week at Richland, Kennewick, Pasco and Prosser hospitals.
That is up from 29 reported a week ago and 25 reported a month ago, although there was one other week of the past month when a patient count nearly as high was reported.
Tri-Cities COVID deaths
The most recent Tri-Cities area deaths reported were all Benton County residents.
They included a woman in her 80s, a man in his 70s and a man in his 90s.
Public health officials in the Tri-Cities area are concerned about low booster rates for residents of long-term care facilities and adult family homes, which makes their elderly residents more susceptible to serious cases of COVID-19.
Some homes also have low vaccination and booster rates for staff, which endangers elderly residents.
Benton and Franklin Health District staff are working with the homes to increase booster rates.
The three most recent Tri-Cities area deaths bring those announced so far in August to seven. That compares with 12 deaths announced in July — two thirds of them in people in their 80s and 90s.
The July count was up from the seven to nine deaths reported each of the previous three months.
The Benton Franklin Health District announces recent deaths once a week.
COVID-19 deaths in the area now total 712, including 496 Benton County residents and 216 Franklin County residents.
In the Tri-Cities, local public health officials verify that deaths are due to COVID complications by checking for a positive test result and that a coronavirus infection was named as a primary cause of death on the death certificate.
It can take several weeks for the district to receive and reconcile death information due to the reporting processes of medical facilities and coroner offices and the process of issuing and releasing death certificates.