SPOKANE, Wash. — State and local health officials say we are in the biggest COVID wave since the Omicron wave last winter.
While hospitalizations are nowhere near where they were in the previous wave, cases are up statewide.
But, with more people testing at home rather than at community sites, can health officials get an accurate grasp on the number of cases in the community?
To verify the answer to this question, I went to Mark Springer, the Program Manager for the Communicable Disease Program for the Spokane Regional Health District and, Lacey Fehrenbach, the Deputy Secretary for Prevention, Safety and Health at the Washington State Department of Health.
"With the influx of at home testing both at the state and county level, there likely is an under reporting of COVID cases," Fehrenbach said.
"It does impact the numbers that we report on our website..So those numbers are really based primarily on a tests that are done through a provider office or a PCR based test," Springer said.
Both Mark and Lacey agree that with more people testing at home, health officials are seeing fewer cases reported to them.
In fact, Fehrenbach says the state estimates the number of cases reported to them represents just 15% of the active COVID cases in the state. Springer says it's a similar figure in Spokane County.
"Maybe one out of six, one out of seven cases, that's reported, you know, compared to what's out there in the community," Springer said.
But, both also agree that this doesn't mean health officials aren't getting an accurate gauge of the level of disease in the state and county. More than two years into the pandemic, epidemiologists have shifted how they track COVID's spread beyond testing.
"The other thing that we look at, and this is a newer type of surveillance for COVID-19 that started in the fall and has expanded across Washington State, was wastewater surveillance," Ferenbach said. "That does help us see a trend in disease."
Both say while cases are up significantly in recent months and the number of people being hospitalized with COVID is once again increasing, there are some positive signs with this most recent wave.
"The number of people and the rate of people who are dying is lower than almost any prior wave and even the whole pandemic," Fehrenbach said.
So we can verify that yes, with the increase in at-home testing, fewer cases are being reported to health officials. But, both stress they're still able to accurately track COVID's spread.
Both Springer and Fehrenbach say COVID is not over and they urge people to get vaccinated. They say while breakthrough cases do happen, if you're vaccinated, you're significantly less likely to become really sick from COVID.
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