In early December we saw alarmingly high increases in viral respiratory illnesses, especially flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19. November and December combined surges of these viruses led to the highest numbers of daily emergency department visits we have ever seen in Whatcom County along with near-record hospitalizations with respiratory illnesses.
We want to share with you the good news that respiratory illness levels have fallen dramatically since early December and are now at typical seasonal levels. We want to give a big and heartfelt thanks to everyone who helped slow and reduce the spread of these illnesses - by wearing a mask, keeping up to date on vaccinations, and staying home when sick!
Flu, RSV and COVID-19 are still in our community, but they are circulating at lower levels. This has translated into a reduction in hospitalizations and emergency department visits for respiratory illness. During the November-December surge, we joined other health officers and healthcare leaders in recommending that everyone voluntarily return to wearing a high-quality, well-fitting mask when around others in indoor spaces to protect against both acquiring and spreading these infections to others. With respiratory illness levels back at seasonal levels, we are no longer urging everyone to wear a mask in indoor spaces. It is also ok if people choose to continue wearing a mask - there are lots of good reasons someone might choose to do that. Everyone should carefully consider their own risks, and those of their loved ones, and take appropriate precautions based on these risk factors – this may include masking for those at high risk.
We also follow the guidance of the Washington State Department of Health and recommend you wear a mask on indoor public transit, when CDC COVID-19 community levels are medium or high, and when you are sick. Masks are also still required in some places like healthcare settings, prisons, and jail facilities.
Other basic precautions we recommend are to stay up to date on COVID-19 and flu vaccines, and to have a plan for how to quickly access testing and treatment in case of influenza or COVID-19 infection.
We will continue to monitor respiratory illness rates in our community and we will let you know if conditions get bad enough for us to recommend masking again. Thanks, Whatcom County for doing your part to protect health and support our healthcare system!