Seattle Covid updates: Increased diabetes rates among kids who recover from Covid

Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations falling in Washington

Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations are dropping across Washington, and far fewer healthcare workers are out sick due to exposure or infection.

Cassie Sauer, CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association, said things are getting better across the state.

“Better does not mean it’s over,” Sauer said during a media briefing Tuesday.

She said cases remain high despite recent decreases.

“We really don’t want people to rip off their masks or go to big parties just yet. Covid activity remains a threat so please very much help your hospitals and your community by being cautious,” Sauer said.

The state recorded a seven-day average case count of 16,365 cases per day in late January. That’s compared to a seven-day average of 18,961 cases per day at the peak of the surge in mid-January.

Sauer said fewer people are also being hospitalized. There were 1,958 people hospitalized for Covid across Washington on Feb. 1, according to Sauer. She said that dropped to 1,635 as of Monday.

Healthcare workers continue to encourage people to get vaccinated, get booster shots, and wear good quality masks.

While Oregon will lift its indoor mask requirements by the end of March, some Washington hospital leaders say they think it’s too early for that conversation here.

—Kate Walters, KUOW

California and Oregon plan to lift mask mandates. What’s the deal in Washington?

As California and Oregon prepare to lift their indoor masking mandates, many are wondering: will Washington mirror its West Coast counterparts?

The answer: possibly.

As with most Covid-related mandates, state officials say the decision must be weighed against the trajectory of the virus, which is dynamic.

“We are continuing to track cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.” Governor Jay Inslee said in a written statement. “We are optimistic that these numbers will continue to decline in a way that will let us revisit the mask requirements in the near future.”

California’s mask mandate is slated to end on Feb. 15, but unvaccinated individuals will still be required to wear masks indoors. Officials in Oregon say they will do away with the state’s indoor mask mandate by March 31. However, local health jurisdictions and individual businesses may still require indoor masking at their discretion.

Liz Brazile, KUOW

More at-home Covid tests available through DOH

The Washington State Department of Health has reopened its at-home Covid test ordering system. Residents can order up to five free tests per household by visiting www.sayyescovidhometest.org.

The state has distributed 2.1 million rapid tests since the site originally launched on January 21, state officials say. The state has committed to distributing a total of 3.5 million tests to Washingtonians.

Liz Brazile, KUOW

Doctors see increased diabetes rates among children who have had Covid

Pediatricians say they’re seeing higher rates of type 1 and type 2 diabetes in children who have recovered from Covid.

“Most of the children who are being diagnosed are diagnosed around 30 days after Covid infection,” said Dr. Shaquita Bell, a pediatrician Seattle Children’s Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic during a Washington State Hospital Association briefing on Tuesday. “They have recovered and this comes later — it’s not necessarily related to any other Covid symptoms.”

Bell pointed to the increased risk of Covid complications for people who are obese, saying there may be a particular connection between obesity and type 2 diabetes for patients who have had Covid. Children getting vaccinated, Bell added, can help reduce the overall risk of infection and in turn, reduce the risk of developing a chronic condition like diabetes.

“What we have found with pediatric vaccines is that they are both safe and that they work they’re very effective,” Bell said.

Currently, a person must be at least 5 years old to receive a Covid vaccine. But smaller doses of the Pfizer vaccine are expected to become available to children as young as six months old sometime soon. The next step is for a panel of scientists to evaluate the efficacy and safety of the vaccine for young children on Feb. 15.

Liz Brazile, KUOW

The Biden administration will pay community groups to help boost trust in vaccines

In this politically polarized time, White House health officials have acknowledged that they are not always the best messengers when it comes to promoting Covid-19 vaccines.

So the Biden administration has worked to equip community groups to do their own local outreach. On Tuesday, the Health Resources and Services Administration is distributing $66.5 million to community groups working in 38 states and in Washington, D.C. This is the fourth round of the $250 million in funding allocated in the American Rescue Plan.

“Whether that trusted messenger is your schoolteacher or your pastor or your barber, what we want is for those people to guide you on this very important decision and encourage you to take the steps you need to take to stay safe from Covid,” Health Secretary Xavier Becerra tells NPR. “The program that we’re announcing this week is to provide additional resources to trusted voices in our communities throughout the country so that they can reach folks.”

“We know there are still millions of Americans who need to be vaccinated, and millions of those Americans are willing to be vaccinated, so we want to reach them,” he adds.

One group receiving more than $11 million Tuesday is Communities RISE Together, an initiative supported by the Public Health Institute. Dr. Somava Saha, who co-leads the effort, says the administration’s decision to fund local community groups is smart and “flips it from ‘trust us’ to ‘we trust you.’ ”

Saha says RISE’s successes in the past seven months since it first received funding proves that the approach is effective: The coalition of community groups has been able to connect about 160,000 people to services like food and housing and mental health support and has vaccinated more than 137,800 people, she says, adding that there are “probably a few hundred thousand more that have gotten vaccinations elsewhere as a result of [outreach] efforts.”

The racial disparities in Covid-19 vaccinations have narrowed since the initial gaps at the beginning of the rollout, according to a recent analysis from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

Samantha Artiga, director of the Racial Equity and Health Policy Program at KFF, notes that the highly contagious delta and omicron variants may have spurred more people to get vaccinated, but that outreach efforts focused on equity and making the logistics easier likely helped as well.

Selena Simmons-Duffin, NPR

Washington Lt. Governor Denny Heck tests positive for Covid

Washington Lieutenant Governor Denny Heck has tested positive for Covid-19.

He is now isolating and home and will work remotely until he’s cleared to return. Heck, who was asymptomatic, is fully vaccinated and boosted.

“I am grateful to be fully vaccinated, boosted, and asymptomatic,” Heck said in a statement. “I am also grateful for rapid test technology alerting me to the need to isolate, cutting the chain of transmission for the virus. I look forward to returning to the Senate chamber once cleared to do so.”

— Angela King, KUOW

Oregon and California begin phasing out mask mandates

It looks like Washington state is going to be the lone hold-out, for now, when it comes to mask mandates.

Oregon health officials announced Monday that they’re getting ready to lift their mask requirement for indoor public places now that Covid case rates and hospitalizations there are leveling off.

“We should see Covid-19 hospitalizations drop by the end of March because so many Oregonians are wearing masks and taking other steps to protect themselves and each other,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, health officer and epidemiologist for the state of Oregon.

Oregon health officials say the change will happen by March 31, and will cover K-12 schools as well.

But the mandate will remain in place for healthcare settings and a federal mask mandate for public transportation will be in effect through March 18. Business owners can also set their own rules.

Meanwhile California is also lifting its mask mandate for vaccinated people on Feb 15, but not for students.

No word yet from Washington Governor Jay Inslee as to when he might consider lifting the mask mandate locally.

Oregon announced its projected end date for masks at the same time it extended existing requirements. Temporary mask rules were set to lapse this week with state officials unveiling new permanent rules on Monday to extend those along with a promise to end the requirements by March 31.

— Angela King, KUOW

Why remdesivir, a highly effective treatment, is a last resort for providers

In late December, as the omicron variant surged, the roster of early Covid-19 treatments was looking slim. Newly authorized pills for Covid-19 were in short supply. Several monoclonal antibody drugs didn’t seem to work.

Then an older drug, remdesivir, emerged as an effective option.

Over the past year and a half, the drug — sold in the U.S. under the brand Veklury –had been used in hospitals to treat very sick patients with Covid-19. But new data from the drugmaker Gilead showed that remdesivir could also help high-risk patients avoid the hospital. In other words, it could help patients with medical conditions like immune suppression and diabetes prevent severe Covid-19 disease.

While the drug had shown mixed results in studies as a treatment for hospitalized patients, it has proved surprisingly effective, according to Gilead’s data, at treating patients early in the course of the disease. Public health experts say it could be enormously useful at a time when other early Covid-19 treatments – such as monoclonal antibodies and Covid pills – are unavailable or in short supply. But the drug hasn’t gotten much traction among health care providers because it takes significant time, staff and resources to give out.

And not just from the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

Instead, it’s the delays and disruptions in medical care — a consequence of overcrowded and short-staffed hospitals — that are leading to, at times, life-threatening complications.

“It can be just heartbreaking,” says Beecroft, who recalls one recent patient of his who had a heart attack. “She had been scheduled for a cardiac bypass,” a procedure done to improve blood flow when there’s an obstructed or partially blocked artery, “but that surgery had been canceled.”

Beecroft, who’s affiliated with the American College of Emergency Physicians, told two other doctors about the patient. That’s when it became clear to him that this was far from an isolated event: “Between the three of us, we had seen four patients who had cardiac complications from not being able to get a cardiac surgery.”

There’s no way to quantify how many Americans are now suffering serious, if not irreversible, harm to their health because hospitals are buckling under the weight of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. But doctors say the consequences are far-reaching, given how many procedures have been postponed.

Read more here.

Will Stone, NPR

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