Coronavirus cases in Washington are down across all age groups, including school-age children, the state Department of Health said Wednesday.
The encouraging trend comes several weeks after the state passed a peak of infection driven by the delta variant, which health and hospital officials have said brought the highest numbers of infections and hospitalizations yet.
"We're seeing some signs of improvement, but disease remains high across the state," Lacy Fehrenbach, DOH's deputy secretary for COVID-19 response, said during a news conference. "We're encouraged that we're going the right direction, but we have a long way to go to get through this delta wave and prepare for the winter respiratory virus season."
As of Oct. 3, the state's seven-day case rate was 234 infections per 100,000 people, Fehrenbach said. According to DOH's coronavirus data dashboard, the current rate is similar to that of early January and down from a peak in early September of over 300 infections per 100,000 people.
A few weeks ago, Fehrenbach had reported pediatric infection rates were plateauing, but hadn't yet started to dip.
Infection rates remain higher in Central and Eastern Washington. Ferry, Grant, Klickitat and Garfield counties, which have the highest seven-day rates in the state, continue to report more than 300 infections per 100,000 people.
Statewide, hospitalizations have also been decreasing for the past several weeks. At the beginning of October, epidemiologists recorded a seven-day rate of 11 hospitalizations per 100,000 people — close to where the state was at the peak of last winter's surge — DOH data shows.
In all, 8,152 Washingtonians have died from the disease.
Vaccination rates continue to trend upward, as the state's Oct. 18 immunization mandate deadline approaches. More than 77% of the state's eligible population has received at least their first vaccine dose, and as of Sunday, 205,000 Washingtonians have gotten Pfizer booster shots.
Still, the state's health care system remains "stressed and stretched," Fehrenbach said.
Some federal help is on the way, state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah said during the briefing.
As of Wednesday, two Washington medical facilities have requested extra support from the federal government and are awaiting final confirmation, said Andrew Rose, DOH's COVID-19 incident commander. If and when the federal government approves the resources, Rose said, DOH will share more information on when and where they'll be distributed.
The state has also secured a contract with ACI Federal, a government-contracted agency that will send health care workers to facilities throughout the state. The two health care facilities that have finalized their contracts with ACI should expect extra workers to arrive in the next seven to 10 days, Rose said.
Shah said the state continues to work on modifying rules and creating waivers to support the health care surge response; convening partners along complex health-related issues; funding health coalitions across the state; and finalizing guidelines for the state's crisis standards of care, which would be used if hospitals ran out of lifesaving resources.
"With things as they are currently, I do not see in the immediate future where we would have to utilize or implement crisis standards of care guidelines," Shah said.
The extra resources, however, are "not going to solve the entirety of the challenges," he added, reminding the public that their actions will largely dictate how the pandemic plays out during the winter months.
State health leaders left residents with a list of holiday guidance: Kids can go trick-or-treating, but try to avoid indoor Halloween events, particularly for children ineligible to get vaccinated. Get vaccinated before any indoor Thanksgiving celebrations, and remember that outdoor gatherings are often safer. Make sure you have good air ventilation if you're having people over. Opening windows helps.
"Working together, we can stay on this hopeful path, " Fehrenbach said.