- The highly transmissible BA.5 variant is now the dominant strain nationally and gaining locally. Reinfections are becoming more common, even among the vaccinated.
- If you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, but an at-home antigen test shows you are negative, you should get a PCR test to confirm.
- We strongly encourage you to continue masking indoors and in crowded outdoor environments where social distancing is not possible.
- Data and cases now indicate local transmission of monkeypox.
Summer is here, and while we hoped for a simpler, less stressful start to the season, many people find themselves more confused than ever about the state of the pandemic. And for good reason. Despite the promising trends we saw this spring, COVID-19 is still very much with us. People continue to get infected, and some people continue to get very sick and require our help. Hospitalizations are rising. And we’re seeing reinfections skyrocket — with very little time between infections in some cases.
There are a few reasons for this. First, the BA.5 variant is now the dominant strain nationally and gaining locally. It is highly transmissible and better at evading previous immunity from vaccination or prior infection. Thankfully, it does not appear to be causing more serious illness than prior omicron variants. Being vaccinated and boosted also continue to significantly reduce the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19.
Another factor is that more people are testing at home with rapid antigen tests and not usually reporting the results, so the case data aren’t as reliable. The actual number of infections in our community is likely far greater than what is being reported. One way we’re able to verify this is by looking at hospitalizations, which are trending up, despite raw case numbers appearing steady. You probably see this in your daily life as friends and family talk about themselves or children getting infected.
Yet another element adding to our confusion is the difficulty of interpreting antigen/at-home tests. Many people I’ve heard from have reported COVID-19 symptoms but get a negative result from an antigen test. If you have symptoms, I always recommend getting a PCR test. If you have symptoms and a positive antigen test, however, you do not need to confirm with a PCR — you very likely have COVID-19.
If you don’t have symptoms but want to use an antigen test before gathering with other people, I recommend thinking about their risk factors and where you will be meeting. If connecting with a small group of vaccinated people who don’t have serious medical issues, using 1-2 antigen tests is probably reasonable. But, if you are going to visit a person over 70 years of age, or someone with serious medical co-morbidities, then repeat testing (daily for 2-3 days) makes more sense. For more information on how to use COVID-19 tests, please see the Public Health Insider interview with Dr. James Lewis.
Despite all the confusion, the one thing we know for sure is that masking when indoors or in crowded spaces is still the best way to protect yourself and others. While reinfection is possible — and becoming more common by the day — we also know that being vaccinated and boosted still provide excellent protection against serious illness.
UW Medicine COVID-19 Activity Summary
King County: Public Health – Seattle & King County is reporting 477,570 total cases and 2,942 deaths as of Wednesday, July 13. The number of new positive tests over the past seven days is currently at 291.4 per 100,000 people.
Washington: The Department of Health reports 1,819,556 cases and 14,353 deaths as of July 12.
United States: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 123,365 new cases, 88,782,908 total cases and 1,017,391 deaths as of July 13.
Global: The WHO COVID-19 Dashboard reports 556,897,312 confirmed cases and 6,356,812 deaths as of July 14.
Now, to the other outbreak we are tracking closely: monkeypox. We have data and cases supporting local transmission of the disease. UW Medicine is monitoring the situation closely and working with Public Health – Seattle & King County and the Washington State Department of Health to diagnose and treat patients. We will continue to keep you posted.
If you have concerns or questions about monkeypox infection in your personal life, please contact your primary care provider or the Sexual Health Clinic at Harborview. If you have questions about the processes and protocols we have in place for working with patients with monkeypox, please visit one of the Infection Prevention & Control intranet sites. As always, our goal is to keep our patients and colleagues safe. Lastly, a shout-out to Dr. Shireesha Dhanireddy (Infectious Diseases), who is leading this work for UW Medicine.
Finally, since I’m always talking about our new world in my closing paragraph, I want to share something that’s captivated me this week: the first images from the James Webb telescope. If you haven’t had a chance to check them out, I encourage you to do so. Despite all the challenges we continue to face, it’s a great reminder that we live in amazing times.
I hope you all get a chance to enjoy our beautiful summer weather — it’s finally here!
John Lynch, MD, MPH
Medical Director, Infection Prevention & Control
Associate Medical Director, Harborview Medical Center
Division of Allergy & Infectious Diseases, UW School of Medicine