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CDC recommends masks in Clark County due to 'high' levels of COVID-19

The CDC is recommending that people in Clark County mask up indoors again — something public health officials are already encouraging.
Credit: AP Images

VANCOUVER, Wash. — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has added Clark County, Wash. to its list of counties with "high" levels of COVID-19.

As of Wednesday, Clark County is one of seven counties with high levels of COVID in Washington state, according to the COVID-19 tracker on the CDC's website.

The news comes as omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5 spread across the Pacific Northwest this summer, sending case numbers and hospitalizations back up. 

The CDC is recommending that residents mask up indoors again — something that Clark County Public Health is already encouraging to due the increase in transmission. 

“We made the same recommendations … we're not mandating anything, but this is a time we're going to recommend people wear masks in public indoor settings," said Dr. Alan Melnick, director of Clark County Public Health. 

While the new variants aren't as deadly as some past forms of the virus, they are still making plenty of people sick. 

RELATED: With BA.4 and BA.5 now dominant, OHSU forecasts mid-July peak for current COVID hospitalization wave

In Clark County, many of the worst cases end up at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center and PeaceHealth Southwest Washington Medical Center.

About 12% of hospital beds in Clark County are currently occupied by patients with COVID-19.

"We're not talking about influenza here; we're talking about something potentially more severe. We've got more than 10% — more than one in every 10 beds in our hospitals now have a COVID patient,” said Melnick.

So how are hospitals holding up? 

At PeaceHealth, the number of patients with COVID has dipped a little in the past two weeks. Chief medical officer Dr. Sarah Garber said that could change.

“The good news is, as we're seeing this variant be less severe, we've seen fewer patients with very severe disease. Also, in the background of having folks that are vaccinated and boosted, we're also seeing those fewer hospitalizations and less severe overall cases,” said Garber.

RELATED: Portland area at 'high' COVID level; CDC recommends masking indoors

Garber said about 60% of those COVID cases are incidental, meaning they came in with some other medical issue and tested positive for the virus.

But more than 10% of intensive care unit beds in Clark County are occupied by COVID patients, and people are still dying from the disease.

“My best advice is to be up-to-date on your vaccines,” said Melnick.

"We’ve seen it here in our hospital that folks who have been vaccinated and boosted have less severe disease and less hospitalization, so that would be my request to the community," said Garber.

Both doctors emphasized that masking up really can help stop the spread. And if you are sick, stay home, even if a home antigen test is negative. 

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