DOH: new report shows coronavirus transmission continues to accelerate in Puget Sound region

On Friday evening, July 10th, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) released its latest statewide COVID-19 situation report, which showed virus transmission still accelerating across most of Washington as of the end of June. 

The reproductive number—which estimates number of new people each COVID-19 patient will infect—is still above one in both eastern and western Washington, meaning the number of cases is still increasing.

The reproductive number has not been below the key metric target goal of 1 in Western Washington since mid-May, rising to just over 1.5 in mid June and decreasing slightly toward the end of the month. At the peak of the outbreak in March, that reproductive number was over 3 in Western Washington and around 2.75 in Eastern Washington.

Latest DOH data shows 40,656 COVID-19 cases statewide, 4,751 hospitalizations and 1,438 deaths since the outbreak began. Washington State, which reported the first U.S. coronavirus case in January and first death in late February, now ranks 23rd for total case numbers.

WA State COVID-19 reproductive number

The state’s recent reproductive number rise coincided with the end of Governor Inslee’s stay home order on May 31st, as well as many counties moving into phase 2 and 3 of the SafeStart reopening plan.

DOH reported some good news: transmission was slowing in the hot spot of Yakima County. DOH said it was an ‘encouraging sign that interventions like wearing face coverings can be effective.’

They cautioned Yakima’s progress is still at risk – with case counts only down about 30-40% from its peak – saying the county must continue to strictly follow preventative measures to slow the disease spread and avoid another increase.

The report’s model-based estimates of the percentage of population actively infected with COVID-19 in the Puget Sound area (King, Snohomish and Pierce counties) are rising and have reached levels comparable to peak levels from late March.

According to the report, “In the Puget Sound area and in Spokane County, the increase in testing has been outpaced by the increase in cases, as evidenced by rising test positivity from mid June onward. Meanwhile, in Yakima County, falling test positivity is encouraging given the relatively stable testing volume.”

As for hospitalization trends, which usually lag behind new cases, they vary across the state. Good news in King County – hospitalization numbers are stable despite increasing case counts. DOH says this is likely because the bulk of case increases – 65% – are in people under 40.

20-Somethings Represent Biggest Chunk of New Cases in late June

One age group was the most impacted in late June. In King County, 29% of new coronavirus cases were reported in the 20-29 age group. This demographic, though, only represents 15% of the county’s population.

New cases were even higher for the same 20-29 age group in Pierce County – at 40% – while it also only represented 15% of that county’s population. In Snohomish County 20-29-year olds were 23% of new cases, but only represent 13% of county’s population. In Spokane County, the same demographic represented 34% of new cases, and 14% of the total county population.

DOH said, “While younger people may be less likely to get seriously ill, they may still be spreading the virus to older and more vulnerable populations.”

The report showed hospitalizations continue to trend upwards in eastern Washington during the latter half of June (except for Yakima County), with Spokane County experiencing a ‘notable uptick.’ King County hospitalization numbers were stable.

Since June 29th, the Snoqualmie Valley – Duvall to North Bend, and nearly 60,000 residents) – 20 new cases were reported by King County Public Health: 1 in Carnation; 5 in Duvall; 5 in North Bend (1 in unincorporated area); 9 in Snoqualmie (4 in unincorporated area). Since the outbreak began, 108 cases have been reported in the Snoqualmie Valley.

Statewide SafeStart Phase Progression Freeze Scheduled to End

This Friday marks the end of Governor Inslee’s two-week freeze on the ability of Washington State counties to progress thru the SafeStart reopening plan.

In late June the state also froze any county’s progression to phase 4. At the time Health Secretary John Wiesman said he would be working with the governor to “assess the need for a modified approach for moving beyond Phase 3.” As it was originally drafted, SafeStart phase 4 essentially means no restrictions.

King County entered phase 2 of the SafeStart plan on June 19th. Currently the county is meeting 2 of the 5 key metric goals of the state’s Risk Assessment Dashboard. It was meeting 3 of the 5 when it moved to phase 2 last month. King County, though, is fairing better on multiple metrics than neighboring Kittitas County, which is currently in phase 3.

Washington State also launched a statewide emergency face covering health order on June 26th and on July 7th began requiring businesses to refuse service to anyone not following that face covering order.

Washington has recently faired better than states like Arizona, California, Florida and Texas, which have seen surges of new cases over the past six weeks.

On Sunday, Florida reported over 15,000 new COVID-19 cases, a new daily high for the state and the highest one-day total reported by any U.S. state since the outbreak began.

County Cases Reported from June 15th – June 30th

[DOH partners with Bellevue-based Institute for Disease Modeling, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Microsoft AI for Health program to develop its weekly report. More COVID-19 data can be found on the DOH website and in the state’s risk assessment dashboard.]

Comments

  1. It’s almost as if more testing results in finding more cases. Perplexing. Wonder if the death rate is still the same 0.1-0.4% it’s always been? Probably so, but confirmed case numbers are more scary and perpetuate the narrative better I guess.

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