Most of Western Washington appears to be ‘close’ to omicron peak
The Puget Sound region may finally be turning a corner in the omicron surge.
During the Washington State Department of Health’s weekly briefing on Wednesday, Dr. Tao Kwan-Gett, the state’s chief science officer, said “there do seem to be some signs of a slowing of a growth in cases” in recent days.
“There is some hope that we may be at or close to the peak in Western Washington,” he said. “However, we are also seeing an acceleration in the growth of cases in some parts of Eastern Washington.”
Some parts of the Puget Sound are still struggling with that as well — Skagit County is seeing a new high in case rates, with cases having doubled since last week.
Still, the state’s biggest counties appear to be reaching the omicron peak.
Hospitalizations tend to lag behind cases, so there will likely still be a couple of weeks of growth in hospitalizations before those numbers start to drop as well.
But as hospitals were already stretched to the max before the omicron surge, the health care crisis and worker shortage is still expected to continue at hospitals around the region for months.
What is not as clear is the trend for deaths.
“They had been on a steady decline over the past few months, but in recent weeks, there seems to be a bit of a leveling-off,” Kwan-Gett said. “We’re not sure if this is a harbinger of a rise in deaths, which we sometimes see.”
All of this means that people should still expect to keep up the COVID precautions amidst high case rates until the omicron surge fully comes down in the next couple of months.
That means that tests will likely still be hard to find. With so many people getting sick, it can be nearly impossible to find a PCR testing appointment. Many sites are only taking people who are symptomatic.
That leaves people with a recent exposure — or those who need a PCR test for travel, work, or who want to be on the safe side ahead of a gathering — wondering where to turn.
Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary of the state’s COVID response, had a plea for people to do their part to free up space at test sites.
“If you have access to an at-home test and you test positive, consider yourself positive — you don’t need to follow-up and get a PCR test,” she said. “You don’t need to go get a confirmatory PCR if you test positive on antigen. Taking that step will help all of us unclog our resources.”
Antigen tests are about to become more widely available, with the federal government opening up its portal this week to allow people to order free test kits online. The state is launching a similar portal in the coming days.
For PCR tests, the National Guard will be setting up test sites outside hospitals in Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, and Richland; FEMA will also be establishing test sites in Snohomish and King counties.
Still, Fehrenbach said you may have a tough time finding PCR tests — so you might want to rearrange travel plans if you are going to a destination that requires a test, see if you can do an at-home test over video as an alternative, or else be prepared to pay out of pocket.
“If you are testing for travel, you may have to cover the cost of your test,” she said. “Insurers are not required to cover the cost of travel testing.”