by Carolyn Bick
The basic precautionary measures that public health experts have been asking Washingtonians to take throughout the novel coronavirus pandemic are now “the only thing[s] standing between us and disaster,” Tacoma-Pierce County’s Dir. of Public Health Dr. Anthony Chen said in an urgent COVID-19 press briefing on Nov. 10. It’s because people haven’t been taking them that the state is now poised to suffer a sharp — potentially exponential — increase in deaths and hospitalizations.
“I know there are lots of tensions. Everyone’s tired. But this is not the time for argument,” Chen said. We’ve got to … put politics aside, put personalities aside. We’ve got to work on this together.”
Chen and a slew of other public health officials spoke during the briefing, each of them sharing grim statistics. At the core of their concern is the real potential for the state’s healthcare system to become overwhelmed, which would likely force the state to institute more aggressive approaches to slowing down the spread of the disease. These approaches appear to include another lockdown.
Cases are higher than ever, and show no signs of slowing down, Washington State Dept. of Health (DOH) Health Sec. Dr. John Wiesman said. The state stands at a rolling seven-day average of more than 1,000 new cases per day, which is significantly higher than at the outset of the pandemic, and even the summer surge, when the state stood at an average of 800 cases per day. Moreover, the state is “much closer than we were four weeks ago” to an exponential growth in cases, Wiesman said in response to Hannah Scott from KIRO Radio.
“The slope is increasing right now to a point where we are very concerned, if not alarmed,” Wiesman said. “All you have to do is look at those data in the incomplete area of the graph and see that there is more to come.”
Public Health – Seattle & King County (PHSKC) Public Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin shared King County data, saying that the average number of new cases in King County alone stand at close to 400 per day and that hospitalizations have jumped 30 percent since last week.
The PHSKC COVID-19 tracking dashboard shows that daily cases have started to balloon up to almost 500 per day for the last several days, and the trend line does not appear to show any sort of decrease.
“COVID-19 is a viral wildfire, and we are the fuel. Everywhere we gather — especially indoors, at work, or socially, in groups for any purpose — recreation, worship, dining, social event or party — is a risk for spreading COVID-19,” Duchin said.
Washington State Dept. of Health (DOH) Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy was even plainer in her warnings, as she shared graphs, shown below, of the disease’s spread throughout the state.
“We should probably all stop socializing for the next several weeks to slow down the disease that is rapidly spreading in our state,” Lofy said.
She added that if people do need to socialize, they should limit that contact to “no more than five people outside of your household per week, and keep your social interactions as short as possible.”
Several health officials emphasized that this includes Thanksgiving and the coming holidays. DOH Dept. Sec. of Health Lacy Fehrenbach said that Canadians celebrated their Thanksgiving several weeks ago, and “saw large increases following that.” She said that Washington State “cannot afford that,” and warned against “any in-person gathering.”
“The safest Thanksgiving is one celebrated only with the people in your immediate household. You can certain link in your extended family by web, if you want that togetherness, but this is the safest option at this time,” Fehrenbach said.
For those who still want to have a small Thanksgiving, Fehrenbach said that people should have a total of no more than five guests outside the household, and that the celebration must take place outdoors with masks. She also said that anyone considering this should “seriously consider a full quarantine for the two weeks prior, which starts very soon.”
“This means only leaving your home for essential things, like groceries or prescriptions, or a brief [masked] walk around the neighborhood,” Fehrenbach said. “When Thanksgiving is here, go outside, stay six feet apart, and please, please wear masks. It’s important to remember that we can get COVID from people we know, love, and trust, who may not yet know they have it, or be asymptomatic.”
In response to a question from KUOW’s Anna Boiko-Weyrauch, Gov. Jay Inslee’s Chief of Staff David Postman said that “nothing is stopping [the governor]” imposing new restrictions on the state, such as another lockdown or rolling counties back into earlier phases of the state’s Safe Start plan.
“He believes things such as masks made a difference. Not enough people are wearing them. Not enough people are socially distancing. … Visiting somebody or having somebody visit you is what seems to be spreading [the disease],” Postman said. “This is the beginning of what I think you will see, leading into the holiday season: a very concerted effort to get people to recalibrate and to take this seriously, and to listen to the experts here and look at those charts and do something about it. There is a lot that each person in this state can do to protect themselves, to protect their families, and to protect their communities.”
Postman said that such measures are “so much better for everybody, than trying to shut down the economy. There are downsides to shutting down the economy that many of these public health experts would tell you is not ideal.”
“There is a real opportunity here for people to take it more seriously than they are, to get over the awkwardness … of telling loved ones, ‘No, sorry,’” Postman said. “You are going to have to make really difficult personal decisions. Maybe I won’t got to that birthday party. Maybe I won’t see the extended family on Thanksgiving.”
The Emerald would like to remind readers that the proper way to wear a mask is securely over your nose and mouth, not just over your mouth. If your mask is loose, and keeps sliding down or doesn’t securely cover your nose, fix it. Also, the most loving hug you can give a friend or family member from outside your immediate household is one that is the safest for both of you: an air hug from at least six feet away, if you insist on seeing them in person; or a hug over a computer monitor on a virtual call.
Featured image is a screengrab from the Washington State Department of Health’s COVID-19 tracking dashboard, and shows the most recent data available. The dashboard — the data for which has not yet all been gathered — shows that the current rolling seven-day new case average stands at 1,070 new cases per day.