Covid on the Key

Highest-ever infection spread on the KP appeared to peak in January.


After a dramatic rise in cases last summer with the delta variant, COVID-19 cases gradually fell on the Key Peninsula until the arrival of the holidays and omicron.

The average daily case rate on the KP in the beginning of December was 3.1, according to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. By mid-January it was 24.3, the highest level yet recorded.

There have been 1,553 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths on the KP since the start of the pandemic, an infection rate of 8.5% out of a population of 18,318. The Pierce County and state rates are both near 14%. The rate of full vaccination for the KP is 51%; the county rate is 62%, the state is 69%.

In Pierce County, 72% of new infections were in unvaccinated people while 24% were breakthrough cases among the vaccinated, according to the Department of Health.

Over the last 12 months there have been 123,365 such breakthroughs statewide. Of those, 46,879 (38%) reported symptoms and 3,700 (3%) were hospitalized.

Breakthrough cases represent just 2.3% of the vaccinated population.

Compared to the original version of SARS-CoV-2, the omicron variant has more than 50 mutations with over 30 affecting the spike protein, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making it more contagious than previous variants.

Over 580,000 child COVID-19 cases were reported across the country for the week of Jan. 6, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. “This number is a 78% increase over the 325,000 added cases reported the week ending Dec. 30 and an almost tripling of case counts from the two weeks prior,” it said.

According to the report, children represented 17.4% of all COVID-19 cases in the U.S., more than twice the peak last summer. Data from 46 states and New York City indicated 747 child deaths in the pandemic, about one-tenth of 1% of Americans who have died of COVID-19. 

According to the CDC, as many as half of all COVID-19 infections in children may be asymptomatic but they can still spread it and get quite ill from it.

“That’s why to avoid worsening the strain on our hospitals, everyone should use a high quality well-fitting mask, don’t use the emergency department unless it’s a true emergency, and most important get vaccinated and boosted as soon as you are eligible,” said Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett, MD, MPH, the chief science officer at DOH.

Reinfections also increased slightly for both the vaccinated and unvaccinated statewide. Between Sept. 1 and Dec. 26, DOH reported that 4,404 people were reinfected out of a total of 264,520 cases statewide; 2,640 (60%) of those reinfected were unvaccinated; 223 (5%) were hospitalized and 22 (0.9%) died.

DOH said it can only identify people who have been reinfected if both their original infection and their second infection were diagnosed by a COVID-19 test and reported to the state. Since many COVID-19 infections are asymptomatic and go unreported, the rate of reinfection is likely higher, it said.

“We see early evidence this wave has peaked,” DOH said in a Jan. 18 statement. “We expect hospitalizations and deaths will continue to increase in the weeks ahead because they usually lag case counts.”

According to the CDC, there is no way to reliably predict who will have mild or severe forms of COVID-19. Many studies indicate recovering from the disease provides “some natural protection” for at least 90 days after infection, but there is no scientific consensus on how long or how well that protection lasts.

“A mild case of an illness may not result in strong natural immunity,” according to a study by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “Natural immunity to the coronavirus weakens over time, and does so faster than immunity provided by COVID-19 vaccination … At present, evidence from Johns Hopkins Medicine and the CDC supports getting a COVID-19 vaccine as the best protection against getting COVID-19, whether you have already had the virus or not.”

About 10% to 30% of people who recover from COVID-19 still have symptoms for weeks or months after testing negative, according to an August report in The New England Journal of Medicine. “Though most Americans may be able to do so, restoration of normality does not apply to those who are still experiencing debilitating symptoms months after being infected with COVID-19. Unfortunately, current numbers and trends indicate that ‘long-haul Covid’ (or ‘long Covid’) is our next public health disaster in the making.”

The report concluded that long Covid can affect anyone — old and young, healthy people and people with pre-existing conditions. It has been seen in patients hospitalized with COVID-19 and in people with very mild symptoms.