I want to update you on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic in Thurston County. There has been a lot of new guidance recently regarding masking after vaccination. Masking is one of the easiest things we can do to prevent many respiratory viruses from spreading to others. We have significant COVID-19 transmission in our county and only 38 percent of our total population is fully vaccinated at this time. Because the majority of our population is not yet vaccinated, most people should still be wearing masks. It can be difficult to know who is vaccinated and who is not unless vaccination status is verified; therefore, I ask all of you to exercise caution and continue masking in public indoor spaces, even if you are fully vaccinated, until at least 70 percent of our community is fully vaccinated. Unvaccinated people must continue to wear a mask. If you aren’t yet vaccinated, please get vaccinated as soon as possible. Vaccines are safe, effective and widely available now.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Washington State Department of Health, and the Washington State Labor and Industries have issued guidance reflecting the safety and efficacy of the three COVID-19 vaccines, which removes the masking requirement for individuals who are fully vaccinated (two weeks after completion of a one-dose or two-dose vaccine series.) Masking is still required in schools, shelters, health care facilities, correctional facilities and while on shared transportation. Businesses and facilities can choose how to verify vaccination status and whether to require masking of fully vaccinated individuals, per their policy.
At this time in Thurston County, 56.38 percent of residents age 16 and older have initiated vaccination. Our goal is to increase this number to at least 70 percent by June 30. For the past several weeks, the largest fraction of our weekly COVID-19 cases has been in the 0-19 age group, many of whom are not yet eligible for the vaccine. Children can become very ill with COVID-19 and may be absent from school or childcare if they are sick or have been exposed to the virus for a prolonged period of time. We need everyone’s help to protect our community’s children and keep them safe, healthy and learning.
While COVID-19 transmission rates have declined in Washington state and the United States as a whole, Thurston County transmission rates have plateaued. Over the last several weeks, I have seen a lot of COVID-19 activity. Today our transmission rate is 191.1 cases per 100,000 population over 14 days and our test positivity rate is 6.3 percent. I have also seen an increased number of outbreaks in long-term care facilities and schools.
In light of our local COVID-19 transmission activity my plea to you, our Thurston County community is this: please wear a mask and maintain 6 feet or more of distance between yourself and non-household members in indoor public spaces where COVID-19 vaccination status is not verified, until our transmission rates decline, and more Thurston County residents have had a chance to receive the vaccine. Please get vaccinated if you are over age 12 and have not done so yet. You can find vaccine location information at https://vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov/.
We are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I know if we keep taking precautions for just a short while longer, the health of our county and our community will be better off for it.
Dimyana Abdelmalek, MD, MPH, is the Thurston County health officer.