OLYMPIA, Wash. — COVID-19 is having less of an impact heading into the fall, but Washington state health officials are far from ready to call the pandemic over, and at a press conference Thursday, they said they're anticipating a more severe flu season.
“While the emergency phase of COVID-19 may be ending, we know that COVID-19 is still very much with us in our state,” said Washington Health Secretary Dr. Umair Shah.
Hospitalizations are down, he said, with COVID patients taking up 7% of hospital beds today compared to 11% a month ago.
“But some 300 Americans are dying from COVID-related disease every single day," he added. "That amounts to some 2,000 Americans a week, so we want to remind people to continue to be smart.”
Washington's COVID state of emergency is set to end Oct. 31, but health experts said that deadline does not mean it's time for people to let down their guards, despite much of the average day-to-day looking pretty normal.
“This year people are more active and mobile, many adults are working in person again and children are back in school; this really creates opportunities for respiratory illnesses like the flu to spread,” said Michele Roberts, Assistant Secretary of Prevention and Community Health.
She urged everyone 6 months and older to get a flu shot, because the flu season is expected to be much worse this winter than in the past two years. And getting the latest COVID booster can happen on the same trip to the doctor or pharmacist.
“Absolutely, I'll be working through the winter and seeing patients, and asking everyone to get vaccinated, it's so important,” said Leo Morales, Co-Director of the Latino Center for Health, University of Washington, who joined the media briefing to discuss increasing outreach to Latino communities.
Masking remains a key part of prevention, the experts said. Mask rules remain in place for health care settings and prisons in Washington, and officials said they're most likely going to remain in place even after the state of emergency ends on Oct. 31.
In fact, a message encouraging masking remained on the virtual wall behind Shah during the media briefing, accompanied by an illustration featuring the state's namesake.
“I'm glad you noticed George Washington is wearing a mask, and over the last couple of years he was wearing it all the time and now he is wearing it appropriately,” said Shah, who added, “The recommendation is that when you are in crowded situations, especially indoors, that is where you really consider getting that mask up. And so what does that mean? It means having a mask with you.”