Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 9
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

COVID-19 Cases Rise Following Summer Lull

After a summer lull in the number of new COVID-19 infections, new variants of the virus have slowly started driving an increase in cases in the Walla Walla Valley and nationwide. 

Dr. Daniel Kaminsky is a Public Health Officer for the Walla Walla County Department of Community Health. He said slight increases in cases are consistent between the county and country.

We are seeing a small rise in COVID cases in Walla Walla County, across the state and the country,” said Kaminsky. “We’ve lost some of our ability to gauge the degree of cases-rates due to changes in testing and reporting.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the expiration of the federal COVID-19 Public Health Emergency has changed the data the CDC is authorized to collect. As a result, changes in local data collection policies have led the CDC to no longer centralize COVID-19 test positivity levels from counties or highlight its COVID cases and death dashboard. 

The CDC collects and displays COVID-19 hospitalization data, and reports a national increase in admission from 6,315 admissions from the week of June 24, to a high of 17,418 admissions on August 26, the last date for which data was available. Increases in hospitalizations often follow increases in COVID-19 infections.

Washington State, on the other hand, does collect case data on COVID-19. It reports a slight rise in COVID-19 cases from the middle of summer when roughly 100-200 new cases were reported per day in Washington State, to 612 cases on September 5, the last day for which data were available; though this number is far lower than case spikes in the past.

Whitman College also changed some of its COVID-19 policies after the Public Health Emergency expired. These changes include not reporting current COVID-19 infection data to its website, although the college continues to track cases and display historical data.

Vice President for Communications Gina Ohnstad said that despite these changes, Whitman still retains the ability to respond appropriately to support the health of its students.

While COVID-19 has not gone away, it’s important to recognize that the state of the pandemic is different now compared to past years,” said Ohnstad. “While there are fewer COVID-19 practices and protocols this academic year, Whitman still has a number of practices in place that our peers have discontinued. For example, many schools are moving away from measures like providing isolation housing for students, tracking cases, providing masks, etc.

Adrianna Brown is a Whitman first-year who recently tested positive for COVID-19.

I honestly only noticed one person who got COVID in my hall, I had not noticed very many reports until I was already in isolation. There I heard from other students about the increase in cases around campus,” Brown said. I would say staying in isolation has been alright. It was pretty fun when we had a bunch of people hanging out in one house, [though] I will say I am very happy to be heading back to my dorm soon.

New variants of the virus can lead to increases in cases, like the Omicron variant which caused a spike in infections during the winter of 2021-2022.

A new emerging variant that has captured headlines is BA.2.86, also called Pirola. The CDC reports that this variant may be better able to avoid immunity than past iterations. 

Kaminsky said that the new COVID-19 variant BA.2.86 appears to be less transmissible than past iterations of the virus, and that greater immunity in the public from vaccines and prior infections decrease instances of severe disease.

Because of its lower infectivity, this variant may not cause quite the rapid increase in cases that we saw with the Omicron wave starting in December 2021. There is no indication that it causes more severe disease,” Kaminsky said. “Time will tell.

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