WA COVID, monkeypox levels down, prevention efforts continue

SEATTLE (AP) — Viral infection levels continue to trend downward in Washington, bringing the state into a “cautiously optimistic” place as COVID-19 and monkeypox prevention efforts continue.

State Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah said Thursday the state is approaching an “important milestone” in its COVID recovery journey, referencing the Oct. 31 date when the state’s pandemic state of emergency is set to expire, The Seattle Times reported.

“It’s absolutely another crucial step in moving forward and it shows that when we come together as a state, we absolutely can accomplish so much,” Shah said during a news conference.

Shah also said that while nearly all remaining COVID restrictions will be lifted at the end of October, a separate secretary of health order will still require face coverings in health care and correctional facilities.

Shah’s office is reviewing the separate mask order, with an eye toward when it may be able to be pulled back.

“Given where we may be with the beginning of respiratory season and flu season around the corner … we may simply not be there yet,” he said.

In Washington, COVID cases have been decreasing since mid-July and are now to a point that is slightly higher than past lows but are vastly lower since the state’s omicron spike in January.

Hospitalizations have also dropped in recent months. Deaths, which rose slightly over the summer, are back down to about seven per week.

State health leaders are again encouraging Washingtonians to make appointments to receive the bivalent COVID vaccine booster shot, which became available this month to target omicron-specific infections.

Since Sept. 1, more than 173,900 bivalent booster doses have been administered, said Michele Roberts, the state’s assistant secretary for prevention, safety and health.