Health officials urge people to stay home and avoid ‘catastrophic consequences’ amid record COVID-19 cases in Washington state

The purple graphs show data from Eastern Washington; the green graphs are for Western Washington.

Washington state was able to “flatten the curve” earlier this year when COVID-19 began spreading. Now health officials are hoping for the same amid another pandemic surge.

COVID-19 cases hit a record high Tuesday with more than 2,600 positive tests across the state. Gov. Jay Inslee announced Sunday that indoor social gatherings and indoor dining will be banned until Dec. 14, among other restrictions.

During a weekly media call Wednesday, officials urged residents to wear masks, stay at least six feet away from one another, and avoid gatherings to help lower the risk of overwhelming healthcare systems.

“Each of us must take immediate action to avoid catastrophic consequences,” said Secretary of Health John Wiesman.

The graph shows the effective reproductive rate, or the number of people that an infected individual will pass the disease to.

Washington State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy discussed new projections from the Institute of Disease Modeling. The graph below shows two scenarios: what could happen to COVID-19 hospitalization admissions if the estimated transmission rate on Nov. 1 persists (red shade), and what could happen if Inslee’s restrictions help slow transmission as they did after his nine-week Stay Home, Stay Healthy order set in April during the first surge (blue shade).

“I’m extremely concerned about the course we are on, and extremely concerned about how quickly our hospital occupancy is increasing with COVID-19 patients,” Lofy said. “Now is the time for everybody to change their behaviors. If we all do our part, we can flatten this curve.”

The graph shows what could happen to daily COVID-19 hospital admissions if the estimated transmission rate in Washington state on Nov. 1 persist (red shade), and what may happen if Gov. Jay Inslee’s new restrictions are successful. (Graphs via Institute for Disease Modeling)

Dr. Elizabeth Wako, chief operating officer at Seattle’s Swedish First Hill, said her hospital admitted ten COVID-19 patients in five hours on Wednesday morning. “That is exponential for us,” Wako said, noting that cases have tripled at Swedish First Hill since Oct. 31.

“Our teams are tired and fatigued, but they are resilient and we will continue to fight COVID,” she added.

With Thanksgiving around the corner, officials are asking people in Washington not to gather, even with close friends and family.

Given the current estimated transmission rates, hosting a group of 15 people over for dinner means there is a 18% chance that at least one person has COVID-19, as the graph below shows. That person may not have symptoms and could infect several others. Those people could then get sick and/or spread the disease to others in their community over the following days.

“With disease rates and trends where they are, it is simply too dangerous to gather,” said Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary of health for the state’s COVID-19 Response.

The state has a guide for safer gatherings here.

Lofy is particularly concerned about the increasing number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19. If the current rate of outbreak continues, she said there will be almost 150 people admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 daily in a few weeks.

In King County, home to the tech centers of Bellevue, Redmond, and Seattle, the seven-day rolling average of positive cases now tops 400 a day, after dropping to a rolling average of less than 50 cases a day at times in the late spring.

The fatality rate from the disease remains well below its peak in the state earlier this year. The outbreak in the state has also been less severe than in most other states by almost every measure.

Washington state is testing at an increasing rate, with about 22,000-to-24,000 tests per day, said Dr. Charissa Fotinos, who is leading the statewide testing effort.

“Testing has been and remains an important part of the response to this epidemic,” she said Wednesday. “But with everything we’ve heard the last 20 minutes, it is not the answer. Please heed all of the information you’re being given today in terms of social distancing and limiting gatherings.”

Officials said they’ve received nearly 400 applications from Washington state providers to administer COVID-19 vaccines. The state is working on developing a prioritization plan for who will get the first doses, though Lofy said the highest priority should be given to those directly or indirectly caring for patients. Both Moderna and Pfizer reported promising vaccine trial results over the past two weeks with 90% or higher efficacy rates.

In total, more than 134,000 cases have been confirmed, 9,573 people hospitalized, and 2,571 have died from COVID-19 in Washington state.

More than 250,000 Americans have now died from COVID-19. The U.S. surpassed 11 million cases this past weekend.

As part of Inslee’s new restrictions, takeout orders and restricted outdoor dining will be allowed at restaurants, which were previously allowed to operate indoor dining at 50% capacity and with parties of five or less, in addition to social distancing and cleaning mandates.

Retail businesses such as grocery stores will now be limited to 25% capacity indoors, while gyms, indoor movie theaters, and museums must close. Real estate open houses are prohibited. Religious services are limited to 25% occupancy with no more than 200 people.

K-12/higher education, childcare, and court-related proceedings are exempt from the new restrictions.

The state is allocating another $50 million in grants and loans to help businesses impacted by the pandemic. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said Sunday she is looking for additional ways to help small businesses with COVID relief packages.

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