County records 207 new COVID cases, six deaths in three weeks

First round of vaccinations to begin Dec. 28 for health care, first responders.

It may still be a little early to see the Thanksgiving holiday’s full impact on the number of COVID-19 cases on Whidbey, but Island County public health officials can confirm that cases are on the rise.

As of Wednesday, Dec. 9, there have been 762 cases and 18 deaths recorded in Island County. A total of 207 new cases and six deaths were added to the toll in the past three weeks.

Theresa Sanders, assessment and healthy communities director for the county, said she can’t say for sure if the increase is related to the holiday.

“We assume that we are seeing some increases due to gathering, potentially with people outside of their households,” Sanders said.

Last month, the public health department began investigating an outbreak at Regency on Whidbey, a long-term care facility in Oak Harbor.

As of Thursday night, there have been 22 confirmed cases of the virus among staff members and residents and four deaths, according to information from an epidemiological report that Sanders cited.

Sanders said a majority of the county’s most recent deaths from the virus have been linked to Regency.

She added that although 20- to 39-year-olds have been the age group with the most transmission, new case numbers are starting to grow in older populations.

When this happens, there is the danger of it reaching at-risk people and leading to hospitalizations and death.

The public health department has been trying to emphasize that gatherings, especially those in confined indoor spaces with poor ventilation, are not a good scenario for reducing the spread of COVID.

“We recognize that people are just exhausted with this pandemic, and they really want to celebrate their holidays,” Sanders said.

“We are just so strongly encouraging people to take the guidance seriously and to wear a mask.”

The county’s case numbers are updated three times per week, although staffing shortages and the holidays have caused a lag in reporting at times.

The county is still working on a multi-partner vaccine plan, but volunteers are needed for when vaccine distribution begins.

Island County Depart-ment of Emergency Management sent out an email this week in search of volunteers. They will be needed to greet, register, usher and observe at the vaccination site, which has been designated as the WhidbeyHealth Education Center.

The first round of vaccines arriving in Island County will likely go to healthcare workers and first responders who do not have symptoms of the virus.

Vaccinations will begin Dec. 28 and continue for the next two weeks. There will be three volunteer shifts each day: from 7-11 a.m., 1-5 p.m. and 7-11 p.m.

To sign up to volunteer, email Volunteer Coordinator Pat Waters at P.waters@islandcountywa.gov and include days and shifts not available to volunteer.

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