Myriam Borzee/iStock(OLYMPIA, Wash.) — Washington officials are sounding the alarm that the state is on the “cusp” of a fourth COVID-19 wave that could curtail further reopening plans if not abated.Health officials blamed a combination of waning diligence on mitigation measures and the spread of more transmissible variants, as COVID-19 cases have increased to levels seen at the beginning of the last wave in November.“We’d like to be done with the virus, but the virus is not done with us,” Gov. Jay Inslee said during a COVID-19 update Thursday. “Unfortunately we now are seeing the beginnings of a fourth surge in the state of Washington.”The state’s most recent biweekly COVID-19 situation report, released Thursday, shows that “population immunity is helping control transmission, but isn’t enough to counteract risky behavior,” the Washington State Department of Health said.The percentage of residents with active COVID-19 infections nearly doubled from March 1 to April 2, to 0.28%, according to the report. COVID-19 cases are increasing in most counties and across all ages, except in people 70 and older. After daily new cases plateaued in mid-February, they have increased from 728 on Feb. 15 to 1,076 on April 8.After flattening in early March, COVID-19 hospital admissions are also on the rise, with the seven-day rolling average 48 as of April 8, up from 34 on March 4, the report said. Hospital admissions are increasing particularly among those ages 20 to 50, the least-vaccinated age groups, officials said this week.Meanwhile, the state is also seeing a “disturbing” rapid increase in COVID-19 variants, acting State Health Officer Dr. Scott Lindquist said.As of Tuesday, the state has seen a 32% increase in positive tests for COVID-19 variants over the past week, with the largest increase in the P.1 variant, first found in Brazil, the health department said.“This couldn’t happen at a worse time,” Lindquist said during a press briefing Wednesday, noting that people are becoming more relaxed toward mask-wearing and social distancing as the weather improves. “It’s time for us to reemphasize, you really ought to wear your mask every single time you’re outdoors.”Dr. Umair Shah, the state’s secretary of health, stressed the need for people to get vaccinated against the virus if they haven’t yet.The number of new COVID-19 cases is where they were in early November, though the slope is not as steep as it was then due to vaccinations, health officials said.“Until we have more people vaccinated, we are still vulnerable,” Shah said during Wednesday’s briefing.Washington was one of the last states to fully open up COVID-19 vaccine eligibility, expanding it to residents ages 16 and up on April 15. So far, 36.2% of residents ages 18 and older are fully vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.To help slow the spread, the state is setting a new goal of administering 90,000 shots per day statewide, Shah said, up from nearly 60,000 doses per day currently.Until more people are vaccinated, health officials stressed the need to continue to wear masks, physically distance, keep social circles small and take gatherings outside.“The challenge we’re having right now is we cannot vaccinate our way out of increasing disease levels,” Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary for the state’s COVID-19 response, said during Wednesday’s briefing. “We are going to have to use the tools that are available to all of us to slow the spread.”Washington has “been able to knock down those waves when they have hit us because we’ve been smart, we made decisions based on science, we’ve worn masks, businesses have been responsible,” Inslee said Thursday.With the state “on the cusp of a fourth wave,” the governor warned during a town hall with AARP Washington on Wednesday that counties could regress to a more-restrictive reopening phase if metrics, including hospitalizations, continue to increase. The state will next assess its reopening plan on May 3.Last week, three counties in the state moved back to phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan, which reduces occupancy in restaurants, stores and other venues.“If that trend continued, more counties would find themselves in that situation,” Inslee said. “We obviously won’t want to see that happen, and we don’t think it has to happen.”“This is something that really calls for all of our continued dedication,” he said.Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
If you’re starting a fall “to do” list for your homegarden and landscape, add “treat for fire ants” to yourlist.”Overcast days when the ants are actively foraging areexcellent times to apply treatments,” said Beverly Sparks,an Extension Service entomologist with the University of GeorgiaCollege of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.”The temperature should be between 65 and 90 degrees,”she said, “so spring and fall are the best application times.”Don’t Treat if Rain is ForecastedTreat for fire ants on a day when rain isn’t in the forecast.”It needs to be dry for at least 24 hours after you applyyour treatment,” Sparks said.To effectively fight the fire ant battle, neighbors shouldjoin forces. “If you treat and your neighbors don’t, thefire ants can rapidly reinfest your yard,” said Sparks. “Neighborshave to work together and treat at the same time. And you can’tjust treat once and expect to get rid of them.”Sparks said you have to begin a treatment program or you won’tbe effective.When you apply a fire ant bait, it’s best broadcast the productover the infested area.”Broadcasting is much more effective and cost-efficientthan spot treating mounds with contact insecticides,” Sparkssaid. “If you want quick results, use Amdro. It works infour to six weeks, while other bait treatments may take severalmonths to control the mounds.”New Control Makes Fire Ants SickSparks and a team of UGA entomologists are testing a new controlmethod for fire ants. And they’re finding it effective.”We have released a microsporidian into fire ant coloniesin south Georgia,” Sparks said. “This is a biologicalcontrol agent that weakens the fire ant colonies and allows otherant species to be more competitive with them.”The control agent is introduced into the colony by infestedlarvae, which then spread it through the entire colony.”The challenges we face in using this technology includemass production of the microsporidian and dispersal of the controlagent from colony to colony,” said Sparks.Entomologists are also searching for other biological controlsin the ants’ homeland.Native to South America, the ants were first recorded in theUnited States in Alabama in the 1920s. The red imported fire antquickly earned a top spot on Americans’ most hated pests list.The ants can sting repeatedly, and the result is a burning,itching area that often develops a white pustule.Some Farmers Like Fire AntsMost people hate them, but fire ants can be an asset to cottonand sugar cane farmers.”We’ve found that cotton and sugar cane fields that containfire ant mounds, also contain less crop pests,” Sparks said.”The fire ants eat the pests.”Almost 300 million acres in the southern United States areinfested with fire ants. “The most recent infestations arein New Mexico, Nevada and California,” said Sparks.Here in Georgia, losses and control costs for fire ants exceed$52 million per year.Fire Ants Hate Cold Weather”Fire ants aren’t a problem in states like Missouri andMichigan because they can’t survive the cold,” Sparks said.”They can’t survive freezing soil temperatures for more thana week.”We first thought they couldn’t survive in the Georgiaand Tennessee mountains either,” she said. “But withmild winters and behavioral adaptations, they’ve managed to spreadand survive in these cooler regions.”Fire ants can also move into walls of homes or other protectedareas to survive the winter.Sparks spends her days searching for ways to control fire ants.But she doesn’t think we’ll ever eliminate them.”With the technology we have today, we aren’t going toeradicate them, she said. “We are going to have to learnto live with them and control them in an effective, safe manneraround our homes and recreational areas.”