COVID-19 hospitalized patients now match winter levelsNew surge of BA.5 COVID-19 seen nationally now seen here in cases, hospitalizations
The number of COVID-19 patients at UW Medicine hospitals is now at the highest levels since the winter surge, a sign just how rapidly the virus is now spreading in the Puget Sound area.
As of Friday, July 15, UW Medicine reports that 90 hospitalized patients had tested positive for COVID.
“Hospitalizations are rising,” said Dr. John Lynch, medical director of Harborview Medical Center’s infection prevention and control. “And we’re seeing reinfections skyrocket with very little time between infections in some cases.”
With many people using home COVID tests, the number of people testing positive locally is likely far greater because those results generally aren’t reported to public health agencies. So, the number of hospitalized COVID patients is now one of the best ways to track COVID infections.
This latest surge is causing more confusion about the state of the pandemic, Lynch said. “And for good reason. Despite the promising trends we saw this spring, COVID-19 is still very much with us.”
That’s because the latest COVID variant, BA.5, is now the dominant strain nationally and gaining locally.
BA.5 has a built-in one-two punch. It is highly transmissible, meaning it spreads more easily than some prior COVID strains, and it’s better at evading the protection provided by vaccinations.
“Thankfully, it does not appear to be causing more serious illness than prior Omicron variants,” Lynch said. But, with increasing numbers, that means more people end up requiring care in clinics, emergency departments, and in hospitals. Being vaccinated and boosted continues to significantly reduces the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19.
Lynch advised anyone who has COVID symptoms, such as a sore throat, fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or fatigue, but who tests negative on a home antigen test, to get a PCR test to determine if this more sensitive test indicates you have COVID.
When planning to join small gatherings of people who are vaccinated and don’t have serious medical issues, Lynch recommends people take one or two home COVID tests beforehand.
He recommends home testing for two to three days prior to visiting someone 70 or older or anyone who has serious medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or is immunocompromised. He also suggests gathering outdoors if possible.
One epidemic-long practice that still needs to be emphasized: Masking when indoors or in crowded outdoor spaces is still the best way to protect yourself and others, he said.
Please see the Virology Lab Dashboard at UW Medicine's Department of Laboratory Medicine for its latest COVID test positivity rates and variant tracking.
Written by Sharon Salyer.
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