How worried should I be?
While the chatter on social media is fueling renewed panic about COVID-19, health data in Washington state indicate that case numbers have been stable and relatively low since last January. Our hospitals are not filled with COVID patients, and the statewide death rate remains below one per day. Some of this data is harder to track these days because people who test at home don’t all report their positive results to their doctors or to the state tracking app, WA Notify.
However, health officials are very concerned about something people call the ‘triedemic’, COVID plus the flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). The Washington Department of Health reports that the spread of flu is currently very high, and 26 people have died from the flu this season. And as parents of young children and day care providers will tell you, RSV is a constant fear or reality for many. Young children, older adults and people with compromised immune systems are more likely to get very sick or develop medical problems from this virus. State health officials reported earlier this week that RSV cases in Washington may be trending downward, while the flu is on the rise.
Do I have to wear a mask?
Neither the state nor the Washington counties currently mandate wearing masks, but health officials strongly advise everyone to wear a high-quality, well-fitting mask, such as a KN95 or N95, when other people are indoors than a hedge against COVID -19, the flu and RSV.
Masks are still required in medical facilities, long-term care facilities and prisons in Washington.
If you’re unsure how to find a high-quality mask, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a guide to masks approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Where can I be tested?
Most people who have symptoms or have been exposed to someone who has COVID-19 are now testing at home. Last week, the federal government reopened its portal to order free home tests. They are also available from the state and from some health insurance companies.
If you need a more accurate personal PCR test, it is still available – although not as widely as before. The state maintains a list of active testing sites.
The state recommends testing for the following reasons: When you experience possible COVID symptoms; when you had a known exposure to someone who tested positive; before and after travel; and when you plan to meet with a group of people, especially when they may be at risk of various complications.
The Department of Labor and Industries also has workplace guidance on coronavirus. Employers are required to keep employees out of the workplace for at least five days if they test positive for COVID-19 or are symptomatic.