COVID-19 numbers rising, but remain below those of surrounding counties

Health officials are also planning for future vaccine distribution.

Coronavirus case numbers may be steadily rising in Island County, but public health officials are getting closer to developing a distribution plan for when a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available.

Island County Public Health Director Keith Higman said the county is in an “interesting transition period.”

Case numbers had hit a low point in August but have been mostly increasing since then.

Higman said that the cooler weather and holiday gatherings may be to blame.

“I think the uptick we’re seeing is consistent with what’s happening in other parts of the state,” he said.

Island County continues to have fewer cases of COVID-19 than surrounding counties. Higman said Whidbey’s natural geographic separation — as an island — may be responsible for the lower case counts.

As of Monday, there have been 439 cases of the virus recorded in Island County.

Higman said there is “no grave concern” for the county’s latest case numbers.

There are no outbreaks being investigated currently, and there hasn’t been a death from the virus in months.

The most recent cases have been associated with gatherings and traveling outside of the county.

National news outlets have reported that a COVID-19 vaccine may be available for distribution as soon as the end of this month to a limited number of people.

Although it will likely be several more months until a vaccine makes its way to Whidbey Island, the county has been preparing for its arrival.

Two ultra-cold storage units are coming to WhidbeyHealth this week. The units will be able to store vaccines.

“That’s exciting for those of us who work in public health,” Higman said.

There are federal and state vaccine distribution plans in place already. Higman said the county plan is still a work in progress.

A planning group meets a few times every week to draft a document pertinent to vaccine distribution.

He added that a decision about the county public health department’s role in the distribution will be decided soon.

Within the state and federal plans, Higman explained, there are categorizations of who the vaccine would be distributed to first.

Health care workers, for example, are at the top of the list.

The details about where, though, are murkier.

“We know what populations are of the highest priority,” Higman said. “What we don’t know is the geographic distribution of the plan.”

There are other considerations at a local level, too.

“We think it’s going to be hard to reach out to the homeless population, so we might need to work with our human services department,” Higman said.

With more holidays approaching, Higman is advising that gatherings be kept to small numbers with masks worn.

Island County Public Health officials are also recommending following the holiday guidance from the Washington State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.