Health experts attribute rise in COVID cases to unvaccinated, Delta variant

COVID-19 cases are on the rise again in both Washington and Idaho. With the rise in cases and the uncertainty with the Delta variant, more places are asking people to mask up even if they’re vaccinated.

Spokane County reported 98 new COVID cases on Friday, the highest since early June. The Panhandle Health District says it’s recently seen an uptick in cases, too. Shoshone County had to be moved into the red “substantial” risk category, the highest level for the district. The other four counties in the district are currently in the yellow “minimal risk” zone. Some are approaching the orange “moderate risk” zone, including Kootenai County.

Dr. Scott Lindquist, the acting chief science officer with the Washington Department of Health, says the state is entering into its fifth wave.

“The majority of those are the Delta variant, not because the Delta variant is more infectious, but because that is the most predominant strain right now,” he said.

As of this week, the Delta variant represented 58 percent of the variants that are present in the state.

“A majority of these are in people that are not vaccinated,” he added.

From a state report released this week, Spokane County has 12 Delta variant cases. The Panhandle Health District reported 12 as well.

Many people have become a little more relaxed now, not wearing masks and no social distancing, regardless of vaccination status.

“This is no time for us to let our guard down,” said Katherine Hoyer, with the Panhandle Health District.

Lindquist says places where fewer people vaccinated are of concern.

Spokane County and Eastern Washington are lagging behind the rest of the state. The state reached 70 percent of people vaccinated with at least the first dose on July 12. As of data from July 19, Spokane County reached 56 percent of people vaccinated with the first dose.

In the Idaho Panhandle, the vaccination rate is low, too. Hoyer says 40 percent of the people living in the five northern counties are vaccinated.

“That leaves 60 percent of the population completely vulnerable to COVID and the variants of concern,” said Hoyer. “We know that the Delta variant could infect someone who is vaccinated, but they could be asymptomatic, so they won’t get ill but they’ll become a carrier.”

Health experts say it’s important to continue staying vigilant with hand hygiene and just being careful.

Hoyer believes there could be more variants present but because of how the variants are detected, the process of testing and finding those variants is difficult.