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Benton's COVID cases now higher than Franklin County. 9 outbreaks in schools, businesses

Tri-City Herald logoTri-City Herald 6/20/2021 Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald (Kennewick, Wash.)

Jun. 19—The Franklin County rate of new COVID cases has dropped lower than has been recorded in more than a year.

"This is really welcome news," said Dr. Amy Person, the health officer for the Benton Franklin Health District, at a Wednesday meeting of the Benton Franklin Health District Board.

The rate of new cases per 100,000 people over two weeks has dropped to lower than Benton County.

The Benton County Health District reported Friday a rate of 126 new cases per 100,000 over two weeks in Benton County and a new case rate of 108 for Franklin County.

At the start of the year Benton County had a case rate of 562, and Franklin County had a rate of 711.

Currently the largest number of new cases are being seen in ages 15 to 39 for the two counties combined.

On Friday just 13 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported for both counties, dropping the average daily cases for the week, starting with the weekend, to 23.

Last week new confirmed COVID-19 cases averaged 26 per day, up from 23 per day the last two weeks of May.

"We did see a little bit of a blip out of Memorial Day weekend," said Heather Hill, infectious disease supervisor for the Benton Franklin Health District, speaking on the Kadlec on Call podcast.

However, it was modest compared to surges of cases seen after other holidays in the past year. That's because more people are vaccinated and also, to a lesser extent, people have some immunity from already being infected, said Dr. Person.

However, Hill said cases could rise again as people gather to celebrate Father's Day and July 4.

In addition, the impact of the reopening of Washington state by the end of the month, or possibly sooner, will be watched closely by public health officials.

More people in group settings is a concern as the Tri-Cities area continues to have one of the lower vaccination rates in the state, Hill said.

COVID outbreaks

The Tri-Cities continues to have COVID-19 outbreaks, according to the Benton Franklin Health District's weekly report.

It lists nine outbreaks, including four in businesses, two in schools, one in a childcare center, one in a long-term care facility, one in a health care setting.

In addition there are seven pending investigations of outbreaks, including four in businesses, two in schools and one in a healthcare setting.

From the start of the pandemic through May in the Tri-Cities area there have been 38 outbreaks reported for stores, 33 for restaurants, 28 in government agencies, 20 in manufacturing, 18 in construction, 16 in K-12 schools and three in churches.

Agriculture related industries, from employer-provided housing to produce packing, have had 41 outbreaks.

Health care settings have accounted for 73 outbreaks, covering a range of types of facilities and services from doctor's offices to dental care to home health.

Counts are likely low because not all possible outbreaks are reported to public health officials.

Vaccination rates

The Washington state Department of Health reports that 68% of state residents 16 or older have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

County level data lags statewide data by a few days, with the Department of Health showing that when the state was at 65% of residents 16 or older initiating vaccination, Benton County was at 52% and Franklin County was at 44%.

Gov. Jay Inslee plans to reopen Washington state, with some limited exceptions June 30, but has said the state can reopen earlier if 70% of state residents age 16 or older have had a least one dose of the vaccine.

Data for all residents, with the vaccine approved only for those ages 12 and older, show that a significant majority of residents in the Tri-Cities area are not protected against COVID-19 through vaccination.

Statewide 48% of all residents are fully vaccinated, compared to 36% of Benton County residents and 28% of Franklin County residents.

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