As of July 15, 2023, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported national new COVID-19 hospitalizations at 7,109, in comparison to 150,674 reported on Jan. 15, 2022. Statewide, the CDC reported 131 hospital admissions as of July 8, 2023.
With the reduced risk of serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19, the Washington State Department of Health announced the discontinuation of WaNotify, an app that anonymously notifies potential COVID-19 exposures, on April 24, 2023. This discontinuation was set to go into effect when the federal public health emergency officially ended.
On May 11, the federal declaration was lifted, changing how health departments in the U.S. manage community testing and vaccine distribution.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesperson Scott Pauley said they will continue to collect data for COVID-19, as with other respiratory illnesses such as the flu.
Cedar Anderson was an ICU nurse manager at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Bellingham throughout the beginning of the pandemic.
“We needed to learn to adapt to daily [and] weekly changes based on what was happening with the disease process,” Anderson said. “We still have patients who have COVID-19 in the hospital. We're able to navigate it better because we know COVID-19 is in a more manageable state now.”
Early in the pandemic, health departments tracked COVID-19 by community levels and transmission based on COVID-19 testing.
“Now that people are doing most of the COVID-19 testing at home, and it's not being reported, they're not very reliable measures anymore,” said Greg Thompson, co-health officer for Whatcom County.
Nicole Miller is a public health nurse supervisor in the communicable disease and epidemiology division for Whatcom County.
“We mainly are still serving people in underserved and rural communities. We do currently offer two monthly vaccine clinics,” she said.
Thompson said that despite pandemic fatigue and higher risk tolerances several years into the pandemic, it’s still important to encourage others to get vaccinated.
“We are still seeing, to this day, significantly higher death rates in people who are unvaccinated than those who are vaccinated,” he said.
According to the Commonwealth Fund, vaccines have saved 3 million lives in the U.S. between 2020 and 2022.
“We'd still love to get as many people vaccinated as possible, but as the demand is decreasing, and as the public health emergency ends and funding changes, that approach is changing,” Thompson said.
Graciela Lagraba worked at the University of Washington COVID-19 testing center for a year.
“We saw all kinds of different people, all age groups. We would see infants and the elderly. It was just a new experience every time,” she said. “It was never a dreary job because you were always doing something, always busy and working with the community. I was doing something important.”
Starting in the fall, the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine strategy will be similar to other vaccines, according to Washington State Department of Health spokesperson Raechel Sims.
“Vaccines continue to be our best defense in protecting ourselves and our communities against COVID-19,” she said.
Joshua Kornfeld (he/him) is a city reporter for The Front this quarter. He is a junior majoring in journalism who enjoys photography, live music and exploring new coffee shops.
You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.