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caption: Registered nurse Estella Wilmarth tends to a patient in the acute care unit of Harborview Medical Center, Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, in Seattle. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is deploying 100 members of the state National Guard to assist four overcrowded emergency departments at hospitals in Everett, Yakima, Wenatchee and Spokane, and that testing teams will be based at hospitals in Olympia, Richland, Seattle and Tacoma. 
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Registered nurse Estella Wilmarth tends to a patient in the acute care unit of Harborview Medical Center, Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, in Seattle. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is deploying 100 members of the state National Guard to assist four overcrowded emergency departments at hospitals in Everett, Yakima, Wenatchee and Spokane, and that testing teams will be based at hospitals in Olympia, Richland, Seattle and Tacoma.
Credit: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Today So Far: Time for some Covid context

We've been getting punched in the gut for a couple years — by a coronavirus right, then a left jab from Delta. Now, we're getting slapped in the face by Omicron, knocking out our hospitals, supply chains, classes, and other services. Would you rather be punched in the gut or slapped in the face?

Answer: It doesn't matter; either way, we're getting beat up.

This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for Jan. 20, 2022.

Why the tense metaphor? You've probably noticed that, recently, I get a little uneasy when I write about the Omicron variant's tendency to cause more mild illness, or how cases are slowing down in Washington state (like in yesterday's newsletter). I think a lot of folks get distracted by that, and forget that we are affected in other ways.

Omicron may mean that you, statistically, could face a "mild" illness, but its efficient spread increases the number of people going to the hospital. That, in turn, makes it pretty hard on you if/when you require emergency treatment (Harborview Medical Center is now more strained than ever before). And it means more folks knocked out of the workforce, like those keeping your grocery store stocked, or our jails functioning (Covid was also the leading cause of death for law enforcement in 2021).

There is certainly positive news coming out. But I encourage everyone out there to not entirely drop their guard just yet. At the very least, for your family, friends, and neighbors who cannot take another blow.

I know I've hit the Covid beat pretty hard recently, but there are a couple of other health headlines that you should know about.

Syphilis is back. That just feels so weird to type out. If you're like me, the last time you heard about it was in high school sex ed. That's likely because after HIV became more commonly talked about, STI prevention methods rose in popularity. And that prevented the spread of other diseases.

But as KUOW's Anna Boiko-Weyrauch reports, modern advancements in HIV medicine have become more popular. And all those other prevention methods have declined. Now, there's a rise in cases of syphilis in Washington state — about 10 times more than just a couple decades ago. Also, chlamydia rates have increased 85% during that same time; and gonorrhea rates have nearly quadrupled. Read more here.

This next story is not pandemic or health related, but it does have to do with the health of our Puget Sound environment (and shellfish economy). KUOW previously reported on how local tribes have declared an emergency over this invasive species.

Now, Gov. Jay Inslee has declared an emergency over the European green crab invasion. The crabs have been spreading locally for more than 20 years, but have now gotten to a point that they threaten shellfish harvesting and local habitats. You're most likely familiar with the native Dungeness crabs that show up on your plate. Green crabs move in, they take over and displace the Dungeness variety, and that's bad news for harvesting and the environment. Technically, you could eat the green crabs, but they're much smaller and just not the same. Imagine your chicken eggs being replaced by quail eggs — it's sort of like that. There have been some solutions put forth, but nothing to match the level of this threat. Read more here.

DID YOU KNOW?

When it comes to quality of driving, Washington ranks among the worst states in the nation.

According to an assessment by the nerds at WalletHub, Washington comes in at 45th. That means we're the sixth worst state to drive in. There were a few metrics considered: ownership costs; traffic; infrastructure; maintenance. Washington suffers when it comes to our high gas prices. We also score really low in traffic/infrastructure and the cost of owning a car.

And because I know you're wondering, Hawaii is the worst state to drive in. And Iowa is the best.


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