The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases could be creeping up after more than a month of decreasing numbers.
The state is still verifying numbers from the past couple of weeks, but it appears that after six weeks of decline the number of people being infected is again climbing.
“I think this highlights how relentless this virus is and any time we let down our guard and think we can go back to doing things how we did before the pandemic, we often will see increases in disease activity,” said Dr. Kathy Lofy, the state’s health officer, during the state’s regular COVID-19 press briefing.
Case counts aren’t the only numbers that have the state’s public health officials worried. The amount of people being hospitalized for COVID-19 had flattened, but recent numbers show hospitalizations are also rising.
The percentage of tests coming back positive is 3.2%. The state Department of Health (DOH) and Gov. Jay Inslee have pegged a 2% positivity rate as one of the key metrics guiding the pandemic response.
There was a dip in testing during Labor Day weekend and when the wildfire smoke forced the entire state indoors. A dip in testing can affect the positivity rate, but testing numbers have rebounded, Lofy said.
Another important number DOH and the governor’s office closely monitors is the rate of cases per 100,000 residents through a two-week period. The state’s goal is to be below 25 cases per 100,000 residents. Schools can also plan to start allowing younger students back in the classroom when a county’s numbers go below 75 cases, which is considered a “moderate” risk.
The more populous counties along Puget Sound are faring better than counties in Central Washington and parts of Eastern Washington, Lofy said.
King County is at 50.4 cases per 100,000 residents, Pierce County is at 59.4, Snohomish County is at 37.7 and Kitsap County is at 28.9.
The case rate continues be higher on the other side of the Cascade Mountains. Yakima County is at 81.7 cases, Kittitas County is at 109.5 and Grant County is at 317 cases.
The number of deaths is holding steady, but death data often lags case counts and hospitalizations, Lofy said.
The new numbers come about three weeks after Labor Day weekend and a couple weeks where people were stuck inside because of thick wildfire smoke that blanketed the state.
Lofy and state Secretary of Health John Wiesman wouldn’t directly attribute the rise to the holiday weekend or people being inside but said those things could have played a role, as could have students returning to college campuses.
“I think all of these things are in the mix,” Lofy said. “And I don’t think we really know for sure how much any of those individual pieces might be contributing to that.”
Wiesman said during the briefing that what is needed to bring the numbers down is for people to be vigilant about social distancing, wearing masks, practing good hand hygiene and keeping gatherings small and to people you regularly interact with.
“I just want everyone to understand that we’re at extreme risk for cases escalating. … We really just simply can’t let our guard down anywhere in this state,” he said.
There were 480 new COVID-19 cases reported as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday and two additional deaths, bringing Washington’s totals to 87,522 cases and 2,126 deaths.
The 480 cases is close to the 463 the state reported on Sept. 1 and the 574 reported on Aug. 1.