COVID observations from the WA islands

Via the Seattle Times:

Measured by the ultimate marker of pandemic success — the death rate — San Juan County, population 17,850, ranks as the second-best county on the West Coast, and among the top dozen in the nation.

The San Juans also had the lowest hospitalization rate in the state, by far, even though it’s one of the older counties demographically (35% of its people are 65 or older).

“For the first two years, we had the lowest case rate in the United States,” says San Juan’s health director, Dr. Frank James. “You’re the first person in the media who has called to ask us how we did it.”

So how’d the San Juans do it? For starters, they are islands, which James says gave them a built-in virus management advantage. It’s also a relatively homogeneous population.

But the story of what happened there isn’t just geographic luck. The county with the highest death rate in Washington state, Ferry County, has less than half the people of the San Juans, and is more remote. The reality is the novel virus eventually infiltrated every corner of every state. (Example: the North Slope Borough, up on the Arctic Ocean in Alaska, reports a COVID death rate more than 10 times higher than the San Juans).

Long story shortened: The San Juans imposed the first mask mandate in the state, and possibly the first one in the nation. When the sheriff told James he couldn’t enforce it due to lack of manpower, James turned to the businesses to impose it instead.

Ironically the San Juans are one of the least vaccinated places for childhood diseases. Against COVID it became the most vaccinated county in Washington, at 83%, and more than 95% for its seniors.

Bottom line: By the time of the San Juans’ first death, in January 2022, the state had already suffered 11,000 deaths, the nation more than 875,000.

The virus crashed through eventually. Suddenly this spring towns that had mostly evaded it were reporting the highest case rates in the state. By then most everyone had been vaccinated and boosted, “so it didn’t end up causing the severe disease that was experienced by almost every other community in the U.S.,” James says.

The islands’ grand total of two deaths, one in January and one in March of this year, were among unvaccinated residents, the health department says.

The counties with the highest death rates bring up the rear in getting vaccinated. Ferry County is still only 43% vaccinated. Its neighbor Stevens County remains the least vaxxed place in the state, at 36%, despite 158 deaths and a rate nearly 30 times that of the San Juans.

The tragedy is that most of the deaths in these counties happened after vaccination became widely available.


Anecdotal. But worth looking into.

Something not mentioned is the COVID variants hitting in the later stages of the pandemic were probably less deadly. If they were able to nearly eliminate entry of the first, and perhaps most deadly, variant(s) to the island then that may have contributed to lower death rates.

Also not mentioned and necessary for a full analysis is the vaccine injury/death rates.


7 thoughts on “COVID observations from the WA islands

    • Even if the rates for injury and death were both zero, for a “full analysis” the rates must be mentioned.

      Thank you for the link. That was great!

      The rates are not zero and are worth mentioning. The death rates for vaccination versus the entire population of the island differs by a factor of 7.45. To be fair one should also take into account that the entire county population did not get sick with COVID so that would spread the risk even further apart (making the case for vaccination even better). But they are close enough that it is well worth talking about the risks of both.

      • Although the rates aren’t literally zero, they’re “not statistically different from zero,” so in most statistical studies they wouldn’t be considered worth discussing. For example:

        298 million doses administered. 340K VAERS reports. Probability of any kind of adverse reaction per dose: 0.0011%

        298 million doses administered. 4496 deaths. Probability of death per dose: 0.000015%. One one hundred thousandth of a percent.

        In most statistical analyses, a p value below 0.05 is considered “insignificant.” In this case we’re 3 *orders of magnitude* below that. I’ve never heard of a study in any domain where you’d be able to argue such a low p value was “significant” and thus worth further discussion.

        • It’s within a order of magnitude of the death rate of the disease it is intended to prevent. And for certain classes of people it is probably much closer. That is worth considering. This is especially true if you think you are unlikely to be exposed to the disease.

  1. Remember that a “COVID death” may be anyone who died of any cause who was positive for the virus. Garbage in, garbage out.

  2. Was the false-positive/negative of testing factored in? How many flu deaths are in a normal year?
    One thing we can be absolutely sure of, is that if the government wasn’t footing the bill for Covid. There wouldn’t have been a pandemic. Nor the Not/vaccine.
    The upside was how so many learned so much about cold and flu mitigation. On the cheap no less.
    Did you get your flu shot this year? No, just stocked up on some horse paste.

    • The first year of covid, with NO flu deaths recorded, had a lower death rate than the previous year. That should tell you just how dangerous covid actually was.

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