The Benton Franklin Health District reported 11 deaths due to COVID-19 on Friday, a two-week total of recent deaths.
The youngest were three Tri-Citians in their 50s.
The health district based in the Tri-Cities reports recent deaths on Fridays, but last Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, was a day off for district employees.
The health district split the deaths into eight reported this week and three last week, for the fourth and fifth week in a row with announced deaths declining to the single digits.
The three deaths for last week bring the recent deaths reported in November to 17, which was down from 80 reported in October and 64 in September, not including a summer backlog of 22 deaths not reported until that month.
The deaths for the week of Thanksgiving include a Franklin County woman in her 50s, a Benton County woman in her 70s and a Benton County man in his 80s.
The deaths announced for the most recent week were all men.
In Benton County, they included two in their 50s, two in their 60s, two in their 70s and one in his 80s. One Franklin County man in his 80s died.
They bring total deaths since the start of the pandemic in Benton and Franklin counties to 564, including 383 deaths of Benton County residents and 181 deaths of Franklin County residents.
Local public health officials verify that deaths are due to COVID complications by checking for a positive test result and that a coronavirus infection was named as a primary cause of death on the death certificate.
It can take several weeks for the district to receive and reconcile death information due to the reporting processes of medical facilities and coroner offices and the process of issuing and releasing death certificates.
Three cases of the omicron variant have been detected in Washington state, the state Department of Health announced late Saturday afternoon. As of Friday it had been found in 10 other states.
Dr. Person said in a Thursday news briefing that the omicron variant of COVID-19 is highly transmissible but the severity of the illness it causes are not yet known.
The spread of the variant in the United States makes testing for the coronavirus even more important for people who have symptoms or may have been exposed. Those who test positive then can isolate at home to avoid infecting others, Dr. Person said.
Residents of Benton and Franklin counties can continue to order free testing kits that provide in-home results in 10 minutes through SayYesCovidHomeTest.org.
Branches of the Mid-Columbia Libraries have kits to give to people who do not have internet access to order home delivery.
The number of new cases in the Tri-Cities area has declined over the past two months, but the decline began to slow in November.
For the past week confirmed cases have averaged about 38 a day, up some from the week before when less testing was done due to the Thanksgiving holiday. The number of new cases match those of the week before Thanksgiving.
Two months ago, new cases reported per day were averaging more than 200 per day.
The most recent two-week case rate also shows a substantial decline.
Benton County’s latest reported rate was 152 new cases per 100,000 over two weeks. Franklin County’s rate was 161.
That’s down from a combined new case rate for the counties of 961 two months ago.
The highest rate of new cases is in people ages 5 to 39, said Dr. Person.
Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 also have declined since the start of the month when 42 people were being treated in hospitals in Benton and Franklin counties for the disease.
On Friday, the Benton Franklin Health District reported 33 people hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19, after a low for the week on Monday of 23.
Those currently hospitalized for COVID-19 treatment account for 8% of patients in the Richland, Kennewick, Pasco and Prosser hospitals, with hospitals reporting sufficient capacity, said Dr. Person.
At the same time that cases and hospitalized patients have been declining, the rate of new COVID-19 vaccinations also has slowed, said Dr. Person.
In the past two weeks just 0.5% of Tri-Cities area people were vaccinated, she said.
Nearly 62% of all people in Washington state are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. But in Benton County that drops to 51% and in Franklin County 46%.
Just over 30,000 in the two counties have received an additional booster dose of the vaccine, or about 10% of the population.
Getting a booster dose has become more important with the emergence of the omicron variant, said Dr. Person. A booster is a third dose of the Pfizer of Moderna vaccine or a second dose of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.
In all of Washington state, 9,380 deaths due to the coronavirus have been reported since the start of the pandemic through midday Friday, with 294 of those deaths reported in the last two weeks.
Of the people who have died statewide, 775 were known to be vaccinated against COVID, according to the latest Washington state Department of Health report issued Dec. 1 on vaccination breakthrough cases. They ranged in age from 35 to 103, with a median age of 79.
At least 291 of them were residents, or possibly staff or visitors, at long-term care facilities.
Information on deaths from breakthrough cases in the Tri-Cities is available only through September, when 16 fully vaccinated Tri-Cities area residents had died.
The other 194 deaths since January, when the vaccine became widely available, through September were in unvaccinated people.
No deaths due to the vaccine have been reported by medical officials in the Tri-Cities area.
About 28% of recent confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 in the state of Washington have been in vaccinated people, according to data from the state Department of Health.
The number of breakthrough cases has declined along with the overall drop in new cases.
The percentage of breakthrough cases has increased a few percentage points since mid September, reflecting the growing percentage of people vaccinated, COVID variants and possible waning immunity, according to the agency.
The vaccine continues to do a good job of preventing cases severe enough to require hospitalization or cause death, according to public health officials.