According to Dr. Katie Sharff, chief of infectious disease for Kaiser Permanente Northwest, Americans have lost patience for COVID-19 precautions. And now that mask mandates have been lifted and large events have resumed, cases have started rising again.
Sharff said the Pacific Northwest has also seen a spike in respiratory infections that typically emerge during the winter. Viruses such as influenza, parainfluenza and respiratory syncytial have increased this spring.
Even so, Sharff said Tuesday, the rise of COVID-19 cases and respiratory illness in the Pacific Northwest likely won’t cause another shutdown.
“I think people kind of, for better or worse, kind of don’t care anymore,” Sharff said. “We’re just going to trek along and try to manage the illness and continue to message on best ways to stay well. But I can’t imagine that there would be any sort of shutdown or anything like that again. I think that is in the rearview mirror.”
To further protection, the Food and Drug Administration has authorized both Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for children as young as 6 months old. Kaiser Permanente will begin administering the vaccine as quickly as possible this week, depending on supply. Kaiser Permanente is also planning a pediatric vaccine event for Saturday to administer doses throughout the Portland metro region.
While cases are rising, Sharff said COVID-19 cases aren’t necessarily causing rising hospitalizations. Instead, hospitals are full of patients with other viruses and medical conditions that need to be managed and at times were neglected during the pandemic. In Clark County, 97.6 percent of hospital beds are occupied, 10.8 percent of which are taken by COVID-19 patients.
Much of the illness circulating now could be attributed to extreme exposure, according to Sharff. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people masked, distanced and isolated, which Sharff said reduced exposure and lowered immunity.
Some children haven’t had routine vaccines either, mostly due to pandemic disruption, causing outbreak cases of measles and other illnesses. Sharff said the isolation period of the pandemic could have contributed to other viruses that are now popping up.
“Young kids weren’t getting exposed to viruses on a weekly basis and weren’t bringing them home,” she said. “Now all of these kids who just don’t have that antibody memory, that protection memory, are getting infected.”
Sharff said that some of these illnesses are preventable through vaccination. Although the COVID-19 vaccines are now available to children older than 6 months, some parents are still skeptical about getting their children vaccinated.
According to a study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in May, only 18 percent of parents with children under 5 plan to get their children vaccinated “right away,” and 27 percent will “definitely not.” The majority are waiting until its effects are known.
Although some parents may be skeptical about giving their children the COVID-19 vaccine because the virus typically is less severe for children, Sharff said that there are still children that can contract serious cases of the virus without underlying health conditions.
“Any sick kid is one sick kid too many. Young kids shouldn’t be in the hospital. They shouldn’t be sick,” Sharff said. “They should be out playing at the park and riding their bike. If we have a tool to help provide that enhanced protection to keep healthy kids healthy, then as a parent and as a provider, I think that that’s something that I would encourage and promote.”