Chelan-Douglas Health District officers hold Omicron Variant press conference, should see high rates of infection January into February

Getting vaccinated, getting the booster best defense

Dr. James Wallace CDHD Interim Health Officer

Luke Davies CDHD Administrator

WENTCHEE - The Chelan-Douglas Health District (CDHD) Interim Health Officer Dr. James Wallace and CDHD Administrator Luke Davies held a press conference on Jan. 4, at the Town Toyota Center to speak to the public regarding the recent insurgence of the COVID-19 Omicron variant.
The press conference was the beginning of the CDHD's public campaign to address the Omicron Variant situation. Dr. Wallace said that they were not there to alarm the public, but rather to raise awareness on how quickly Omicron is spreading and to better prepare the community.

The Omicron variant was first seen in the Chelan-Douglas region on Dec. 10. Since then, Confluence Health went from a positivity rate of 7% to 20% by Dec. 27. The surge and spread in numbers of this variant means that the current timeline for Omicron to reach its peak will be much shorter than those of previous variants.

"The Delta variant took about four months to peak in our area, and Omicron should only take six weeks,” Dr. Wallace explained. “The Delta variant doubled its infection rate approximately every two weeks and in communities around the nation now, Omicron cases are doubling every 2-4 days."

"Based on the facts that we currently know about Omicron and its rate of infection, we expect Omicron to gain momentum within our local communities in the next few weeks,” Davies said. “We should expect to see high rates of COVID infection for the month of January and into early February."

Dr. Wallace also reported that “researchers believe Omicron may lead to more cases of reinfection in people who have already had COVID, as well as more cases of break-through infection for people who are fully vaccinated."

Davies states that statewide hospitalizations may be up to or 2.7 times higher than Delta per day at the peak of Omicron in the community. Meanwhile, Confluence Health only has 156 beds for both COVID and non-COVID patients.

"These sort[s] of projections will put our hospitals beyond capacity and put a tremendous strain on Confluence Health, Lake Chelan Health, Cascade Medical Center, and our federally qualified health centers, Columbia Valley Community Health (CVCH), Family Health Centers, potentially forcing hard choices by medical providers," Davies said, who later added:

"This comes at a time when our healthcare system [is] already short-staffed and our healthcare workers are exhausted dealing with pandemic conditions for two years."

"Omicron is a fast-moving, highly infectious variant that's unlike any we've seen in the past two years of the pandemic," Dr. Wallace said. "While this variant appears to be slightly less severe as measured by overall mortality rates and overall hospitalizations, it moves very quickly, and we are going to see everyone becoming sick around the same time."

They stated that the incoming Omicron wave will lead to even more staffing shortages, which may leave businesses no choice but to shut down, along with creating a greater strain on public infrastructure such as hospitals, our schools and area utilities.

The Chelan-Douglas Health District stated the following regarding school operations throughout the area: "We anticipate that there will be staffing issues or community spread that may cause school closures in the next few weeks."

The CDHD encourages the community to get vaccinated and to social distance, along with prioritizing the use of N-95 masks and surgical masks over cloth or bandana masks. If you do wear a cloth mask, make sure to wash it every day and to use a filter within the cloth mask.

"If folks have stopped wearing masks, now is the time to start [again]. If folks have not worn masks thus far, I strongly encourage folks to start," Dr. Wallace states.

CDHD will also provide masks and at-home tests once they become available. The Department of Health is distributing close to one million at-home tests to local health jurisdictions over the next few weeks.

"We will be working to distribute those through different community partners. They [are] also going to be distributing a significant number through schools and healthcare providers as well."

They stated again that getting vaccinated and getting the booster is the best defense, but its effectiveness will wane over time. The FDA has fully approved the Pfizer vaccine for 12-15 year-olds and is in the review process of updating their recommendation of shortening the booster wait time from 6 months to 5 months from the primary second dose.

"Now is the time to schedule an appointment for your booster,” Davies said. “If you need to get vaccinated, you can sign up on the Chelan-Douglas Health District website or work with a number of our providers who are operating within our local pharmacies."

They also suggest getting a flu shot so that people do not further increase hospital capacity.

In addition, the CDHD will work to implement a new Emergency Operation Center (EOC) and Triage Center, located in Olds Station in the following week. Those who have trouble breathing, and if nearby hospitals reach maximum capacity, may be directed towards the EOC. More information will be sent out once it is made available.

The CDHD will work in conjunction with Columbia Valley Health (CVCH) and Chelan County Fire District #1 on building the EOC and Triage Center. The EOC will also include the assistance of Wenatchee Valley College, which will help handle COVID testing and triage duties.

Updated CDC guidelines state that people who have tested positive for COVID-19 should stay home for five days, regardless of vaccination status.

"If you do not have symptoms or your symptoms are resolving after five days, you can leave your house but should continue to wear a mask in public places as per the Washington mandate," Davies states.

They also recommend that those exposed to someone positive and are unvaccinated, or vaccinated over 6 months ago, should stay home for five days and wear a mask around others., and to get tested on the 5th day of exposure.

The original CDC guideline for a 10-day quarantine will stay in place for congregant settings like food-processing facilities, warehouses, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, transitional housing, temporary worker housing, schools and childcare, factories, and institutions for higher education.

"We are in a precarious point of the COVID pandemic, but I want to stress that this is also a time of opportunity,” Davies said. “We as a community can choose to come together quickly and work towards lessening the strain of Omicron on our families, each other, and our healthcare system."

Recommendations on slowing the transmission of Omicron include the following:
• If tested positive, stay home for 5 days.
•  If you feel symptoms and can't get tested, quarantine and assume you have Omicron
• If symptoms are less severe, still follow through with isolation.
•If you are high-risk or immuno-compromised, do your best to protect yourself.
•Wear a mask in public places and when socializing with people outside of your household.

You can schedule a vaccine and learn more about the Omicron variant here: https://www.cdhd.wa.gov/covid-19

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