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Wednesday, November 29, 2023
Nov. 29, 2023

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In Our View: Be cautious amid viruses this Thanksgiving

The Columbian

As families large and small gather from near and far this week to give thanks, we offer a gentle reminder that we are in the midst of a pandemic. But that’s not all.

A spike in cases of respiratory syncytial virus and an anticipated severe year for influenza have joined the lingering COVID-19 pandemic to create what has been dubbed a “tripledemic.” The point is not to stoke fear or suggest that families should not gather for Thanksgiving, but to warn against allowing your family event to become a superspreader.

Clark County remains in the low-risk category for COVID transmission. That is good news, and our community — along with others — has reluctantly accepted the respiratory virus as an unwelcome fact of life.

But Clark County Public Health last week reported a small uptick in local COVID cases, providing a reminder of the importance of receiving a vaccination or a booster.

Meanwhile, health officials throughout the country are reporting a sharp rise in cases of RSV. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention writes: “Most people recover in a week or two, but RSV can be serious, especially for infants and older adults.”

Officials from the Washington State Hospital Association report that RSV is spreading faster than usual this year, in part because years of COVID isolation have reduced herd immunity. And The (Tacoma) News Tribune writes, “The surge is overwhelming pediatric offices, urgent care centers and ERs.”

Dr. Tony Woodward of Seattle Children’s Hospital said: “We are in crisis mode … bordering if not already in disaster mode in our emergency departments across the state.” Dr. Mary Alice King of Harborview Medical Center in Seattle added: “We’re terrified that we won’t be able to take care of all the kids.”

On top of that, flu season apparently has started earlier than usual, adding to other health concerns to create what one doctor described as a “viral jambalaya.”

Health officials urge flu inoculations, especially for members of vulnerable populations.

As COVID has taught us, public health concerns are not to be trifled with; the disease has contributed to more than 1 million deaths in the United States since its arrival in 2020. Throughout the pandemic, Washington has fared better than most states in terms of preventing COVID infections and deaths, demonstrating the benefits of employing caution and strict mitigation strategies.

As Gov. Jay Inslee recently told The Columbian’s Editorial Board: “We’ve been very successful in saving the lives of thousands of people. I’m gratified we’ve had that relative success.”

The rest of the nation should take note. Per-capita funding for public health has decreased in recent decades, and a report from Health Affairs (before the COVID pandemic) warned: “Without substantial and sustained investment by states and ongoing robust federal support, the U.S. may well continue its ‘default’ approach to public health funding: ‘neglect, panic, repeat.’ ”

That seems particularly relevant after a pandemic has upended our previous notion of normal. In response, the Legislature in 2021 passed a bill to increase funding for the state Department of Health, remake county health boards and create regional public health centers.

It is unlikely any of that will be on the minds of Clark County residents during Thanksgiving festivities.

But caution and common sense are necessary to ensure that celebrations don’t turn into a sour occasion.

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