The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) confirmed on Friday that 26 people across the state have died from the flu this year. Some local health officials in Western Washington are now recommending people wear masks inside.
The DOH says influenza-like activity in the state is currently very high, and the end of the season is months away. The total number of lab-confirmed deaths has reached 26 this season, which means 13 people died from the flu this last week alone. Three of them were children, the remaining 23 were adults.
"We are seeing an unprecedented increase in influenza," said Dr. John Lynch, Professor of Medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine. "We’re definitely seeing the impact of this rise in flu in terms of numbers, but also the timing. The flu sort of pandemic as it’s arising right now is much earlier than we've typically seen."
"A lot of these bugs we’re seeing at levels that we haven’t seen since before the pandemic. And what that says to me is some of the measures that were put in place during the pandemic have had an effect in keeping these viruses under control to a lower level," said Nigel Turner, division director for communicable disease control with Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.
According to the DOH, the best way to stop the spread of the flu is to wash your hands often, cover your cough and stay home when you're sick. However, some local health officials in King and Pierce Counties are recommending the public goes a step further: wearing masks indoors.
KING COUNTY, PIERCE COUNTY
Both Seattle-King County Public Health (KCPH) and Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department (TPCHD) are recommending people wear high-quality, well-fitting masks in indoor public spaces. Both agencies are saying that local communities are experiencing an ‘unprecedented surge’ in respiratory illnesses, including RSV, influenza and COVID-19.
Amid this ‘Tripledemic’, which is the term some health experts are calling the wave of three viruses, local health officials say the best ways to prevent the spread includes the following:
- Stay up to date on vaccinations, whether that be COVID-19 booster shots, or flu shots
- Staying home from work and school, and testing for COVID-19 if symptoms develop
- Having a plan for rapid treatment for COVID-19 and the flu for those who are considered high-risk individuals
- Improving indoor air quality through ventilation, filtration and UV technology when appropriate
Local health officers say the flu will likely circulate for months, so they are recommending people receive their flu shot as soon as they can.
The flu is most dangerous for:
- Children under 5, especially for those under 2
- Adults 65 years or older
- Pregnant individuals
- Anyone with pre-existing health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart disease
Though Governor Jay Inslee said there is obvious concern on the spread of the viruses, masks remain an option.
"We don’t feel that the current situation warrants a mandate to intrude on people’s individual decision-making in this regard. We think giving people the option to do that and means to do that is the right approach at this moment," said Inslee.
As always, health officials recommend people consult their physician or healthcare provider about the need for testing, treatment or for any other health related questions.