Covid-19 transmission rates increase in northwest Washington


The latest Covid-19 variants “FLiRT” and LB.1 are creating a summer surge nationwide, but Covid-19 remains under control in northwest Washington.

FLiRT strains are subvariants of omicron that began spreading in April, according to Yale Medicine. LB.1, which is similar to the FLiRT variants but with an additional mutation, began spreading in June.

The FLiRT variants now make up more than 60 percent of Covid-19 cases in the U.S. compared to five percent of cases in March, according to Yale Medicine. The LB.1 strain accounted for 17.5 percent of Covid-19 cases in the U.S. at the beginning of the summer.

In Washington state, emergency department visits for Covid-19 patients have been steadily increasing since mid-May. However, that number remains under the threshold for significant transmission as the latest data shows Covid-19 only accounted for 1.7 percent of total emergency department visits statewide during June 23-29.

Transmission rates are considered significant when over three percent of emergency department visits have a Covid-19 diagnosis, at which time healthcare facilities may reinstate masking requirements. Northwest Washington hasn’t had significant transmission rates since late January.

CDC spokesperson Sharleta Stamps wrote in an email to The Northern Light that there is no evidence any of the recent variants cause more severe disease.

“CDC tracks all SARS-CoV-2 variants, including KP.2 (and other ‘FLiRT’ variants which have similar mutations) and KP.3, and is working to better understand their potential impact on public health,” Stamps wrote.

Eighteen people with Covid-19 were occupying ICU beds in Washington state during June 23-29, which is higher than both the flu and RSV combined, according to the latest data from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) virus illness dashboard.

Vaccinations and testing

As of July 2, roughly 20 percent of Whatcom County residents were up to date with their Covid-19 vaccinations, according to the state vaccine dashboard. 

“New variants tend to be better at evading immunity from previous infection or vaccination, and immunity also wanes with a longer time interval since last vaccination,” wrote Dr. Amy Harley, health officer at Whatcom County Health and Community Services (WCHCS), in an email to The Northern Light. “People 65 years of age and older who have not yet received an additional dose of a Covid-19 vaccine at least 4 months following their last dose should consider getting a dose now.”

Ron Warner, public information officer at WCHCS, wrote in an email that people can receive free Covid-19 tests through a kiosk in the parking lot of the WCHCS building, 509 Girard Street in Bellingham. The kiosk offers both rapid antigen tests and lab-based PCR tests to the public 24/7. People are instructed to return PCR tests to the kiosk and results will be provided around 48 hours later.

The DOH encourages people to do the following to protect themselves from Covid-19: get an updated Covid-19 vaccine, stay home if unwell, do frequent handwashing, and consider wearing masks in crowded public spaces.

Reporting results

Andrew Weitz is a program director for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) who has worked on (MMTC), an NIH website where people can report at-home Covid-19 test results.

“One of the things I love to tell people is that it’s just as important to report negatives as positives because that positivity rate gives you information about the percentage of people who are testing at home who are positive,” he said. “And that’s partly why we called it, ‘make my test count,’ because every test counts.”

Since the website’s launch in November 2022, the team has collected 240,203 tests, Weitz said.

“We’re still learning how to use it, how to draw actionable insights from it, and how to use it for public health surveillance and public health action,” he said. “The more data that we have, the better we can figure out how to do that.”

In the past, when people received free Covid-19 tests through, an initiative that has since been discontinued, they would be invited to report results to MMTC. Since the conclusion, Weitz said the public may no longer be provided reporting resources.

“I think the top-of-mind question for someone is, ‘Why should I do this?’” he said. “And my answer to that is, you’re helping this new cause of helping our nation understand how to better utilize this new type of testing data, home tests, that’s really here to stay.”

Weitz said NIH has no plans to discontinue the site and hopes to expand testing to include flu and STI tests. Reporting test results is optional, he said, and those choosing to report can determine how much information to share with healthcare authorities.

“We really believe that there needs to be a permanent platform in place for the public to be able to voluntarily share their results,” he said.

The Northern Light reached out to the Washington State Nurses Association about the experiences of frontline healthcare workers, and the union declined to comment citing concerns about disciplinary action. The union represents nurses at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham.

For more the latest data on respiratory illnesses in Washington state, visit the DOH dashboard at For more information on vaccines, visit the DOH vaccine locator at, visit the WCHCS website at or call 360/778-6100. 


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