Masking up

Continuing to wear a mask in public, avoiding gatherings and getting the vaccine is the most effective means of preventing spread of COVID-19.

COVID-19 continues to inflict pain and death in Skagit County.

As of Monday, Skagit recorded its third-highest number of cases in a month, its second-highest number of deaths in a month, and its highest number of hospitalizations since the pandemic reached here in March 2020.

Eleven people have died here this month from the acute respiratory virus, according to data on the county and state health department websites; 927 have been infected and 83 have been hospitalized. Meanwhile, vaccination rates continue to inch up, and health officials say a majority of the people hit hardest by the virus are those who are unvaccinated.

“It’s tough,” Island Hospital spokesperson Laura Moroney said. “The latest wave hit us hard.”

Staff members haven’t had a reprieve for several weeks, and the emergency department has had high numbers of cases, she said.

For several hours this past Monday night, the emergency department was over full capacity. On Tuesday, Sept. 28, the hospital admitted four patients with COVID-19.

Moroney said staff members are tired and believe that the last wave “could have been avoided if more people had gotten vaccinated.”

All three Skagit County hospitals — 43-bed Island Hospital, 137-bed Skagit Valley Hospital, and 30-bed PeaceHealth United General Medical Center — are strained by the surge of outpatients and those admitted for treatment.

Island Hospital has strengthened its relationships with other hospitals and healthcare providers during the pandemic, Moroney said.

Meanwhile, all hospitals must also make sure their employees are fully vaccinated by the state-mandated Oct. 18 deadline or qualify for an exemption. Otherwise, they cannot work in health care in Washington.

Island Hospital has a committee reviewing individual cases of staff seeking a medical or religious exemption. As of Tuesday, over 84% of the hospital’s overall staff had been fully vaccinated, including 94% of medical staff, Moroney said.

Health officials continue to urge people to wear masks to prevent spreading moisture to others, wash their hands and get vaccinated.

Infections, hospitalizations and deaths caused by COVID-19 are highest among the unvaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Statewide, COVID-19 case rates among unvaccinated 12- to 34-year-olds are six times higher than those who are fully vaccinated, according to a state Department of Health report. Among those ages 35 to 64 who are unvaccinated, the infection rate is five times higher than their vaccinated peers.

“Skagit’s case rate is 617.9 per 100,000 residents over the last 14 days, which is still extremely high,” Skagit County Public Health spokeswoman Danica Sessions reported Sept. 24. “We have a hospitalization rate of 14.6 patients per 100,000 over the last seven days.”

Since March 2020, there have been 7,655 cases, 543 hospitalizations and 97 deaths from COVID-19. The rate of residents ages 12 and older who have been fully vaccinated is 65.4%; 72% have initiated vaccination, meaning they’ve had the first dose of a two-dose vaccine.

Statewide, there have been 577,493 cases, 36,213 hospitalizations, and 7,528 deaths. The vaccination rate is 67.4%; 73.9% have initiated vaccination.

In the U.S., the virus has infected 42.8 million and killed 686,639. Put in context, more Americans have died from COVID-19 than died in the Civil War or in all other U.S. wars combined, according to Department of Defense data.

To date, the vaccination rate is 64.8% among those 12 and older. The vaccination rate for those 65 and older is the highest, at 83.2%.

Worldwide, the virus has infected 231.7 million and killed 4.74 million, according to the World Health Organization.

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