COVID-19 cases in Pierce County began to fall in January from their historic highs but remain at “high risk” levels, according to the state Department of Health. County COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths have also fallen.
But the test positivity rate in the county remains high, suggesting that cases may be undercounted due to reduced testing.
The 14-day case rate per 100,000 was 217 in mid-February; at the beginning of January it was 400. There have been 34,548 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 429 deaths in the county since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.
DOH announced Feb. 15 that more than 1.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered across the state since distribution began Dec. 15. Approximately 26,000 people are getting a shot each day, approaching the state goal of vaccinating 45,000 per day.
To “resolve confusion about getting a second vaccine dose,” DOH said it has asked providers to “prioritize vaccine series completion,” using first doses to provide second doses. Two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine should be given three weeks apart; two doses of Moderna should be given one month apart. The second dose of either vaccine can be administered up to six weeks after the first.
Nationally, average cases fell below 100,000 in February for the first time in three months, down from 250,000 in January. “It’s encouraging to see these trends coming down, but they’re coming down from an extraordinarily high place,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in an interview on CBS Feb. 14. “We still have somewhere between 1,500 and 3,500 deaths per day, and yet we see some communities relaxing some of their mitigation strategies. We are nowhere out of the woods.”
The U.S. was administering 1.66 million vaccine doses a day by mid-February, according to the CDC. About 35.8 million people have received at least one dose and about 12.1 million of those have also received the second dose.
“I don’t think the vaccine is having much of an impact at all on case rates,” said Tom Frieden, a former CDC director in an interview with CNN. “It’s what we’re doing right: staying apart, wearing masks, not traveling, not mixing with others indoors.”
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington published a model Feb. 12 predicting that 500,000 Americans will have died of the coronavirus by the end of March. It also predicted that vaccines will have saved 25,000 lives by then, and that more mask usage in the next month could save up to 56,000.
“If we (vaccinate) efficiently in April, May, June, July, August, we should have that degree of protection that could get us back to some form of normality,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci in an interview with the Harvard Business Review in January. Fauci is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser on the pandemic for the Biden administration.
“If we get that, we would develop an umbrella of immunity,” he said. “That would be able to protect even the vulnerables who have not been vaccinated, or those in which the vaccine has not been effective.”
That umbrella would be made possible by herd immunity, which various experts have said could require 60% to 85% of the U.S. population to be vaccinated or have natural antibodies after recovering from COVID-19. Out of a population of approximately 328 million, that’s about 492 million doses for herd immunity, or 656 million doses for everyone in the U.S.
At an average national vaccination rate of 1.5 million shots a day, herd immunity in the U.S. could be reached by the end of 2021.
Pfizer has said it will deliver 200 million doses of its vaccine by the end of July, and Moderna said it will provide another 200 million by the end of June. There are also three other COVID-19 vaccines expected to become available in the U.S. in the coming months from AstraZeneca, Novavax, and Johnson & Johnson.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is likely to receive emergency approval in March. It is a single dose vaccine, which could increase the overall vaccination rate by simplifying storage and scheduling requirements, if enough is rapidly delivered.
But even if the U.S. reaches herd immunity, the pandemic will be far from over.
The World Health Organization’s chief scientist, Soumya Swaminathan, said in January that global herd immunity should not be expected this year, and that COVID-19 could remain in circulation for years as it mutates and adapts to vaccines, like other coronaviruses.
For information on vaccine availability and who is eligible to receive it, go to www.piercecountywa.gov.
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