The new coronavirus’s fall surge that public health officials have been sounding the alarm about for months is here.
New cases of COVID-19 are rapidly increasing in Washington, as are the numbers of people being hospitalized because of the disease. Like much of the rest of the country, the surges are driven by people gathering with friends and family, say health officials from Washington to Maine.
“We’ve all gotten used to our bubbles, but I don’t think we’ve really asked whether someone who’s in our bubble is also in another person’s bubble. People’s bubbles are getting big enough to burst,” Nirav Shah, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Maine, told The Washington Post.
The United States is now averaging more than 100,000 cases a day, and with more than 10 million infections in total, nearly 240,000 have died since the first case was confirmed in a 35-year-old Snohomish County man in January.
As of 11:59 p.m. Monday, Washington state has confirmed 120,011 people infected with the coronavirus, 9,092 of whom have been hospitalized and 2,482 of whom have died.
In King County, 31,497 people have confirmed COVID-19 cases and 829 have died, according to state data.
This installment of FAQ Friday answers questions about what the state and local health districts have done to try and slow transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and what they are urging people to do heading into the holidays.
With cases of COVID-19 surging, what measures could be taken to slow transmission and what is currently being done?
State mandates to thwart the virus began in spring as COVID-19 cases rapidly grew and overwhelmed hospitals.
In March, Gov. Jay Inslee — who again addressed Washingtonians on Thursday night — gave the order to residents to stay at home to combat the spread. That spring order closed any business classified as nonessential, banned all social gatherings. The order didn’t prohibit people from going outside as long as they kept 6 feet of distance from others and allowed for grocery shopping, work, or people seeking medical care.
The two-week stay-at-home order was extended a number of times, and at the end of May, Inslee rolled out the Safe Start plan, which moved counties through phases toward opening. Inslee also announced a statewide requirement in June for people to wear facial coverings.
The first round of the pandemic’s infections was largely driven by concentrated outbreaks in places where SARS-CoV-2 could easily spread like long-term care facilities.
The stay-home order worked and bent the curve of increasing cases. After the measure was lifted, cases did begin to creep up as businesses opened and people ventured out of their households again in June and peaking in mid-July.
Cases of COVID-19 are again climbing, and climbing rapidly. The surge in infections and the increase in people being hospitalized for COVID-19 has state and local health officials so worried that they held a news briefing Tuesday urging people to celebrate Thanksgiving with only those people in your household.
“Everywhere we gather, especially indoors at work or socially in groups for any purpose, recreation, worship, dining, social events or a party, it is a risk for spreading COVID-19 and stepped up precautions are needed,” said Public Health – Seattle & King County’s Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin, during the briefing.
They also urged people to not interact with others outside your pandemic bubble, wear a mask, wash hands and practice physical distancing when around others.
“Ideally, we should probably all stop socializing for the next several weeks to try to slow down the disease that’s rapidly spreading through our state,” said Dr. Kathy Lofy, the state’s health officer.
If you do socialize or gather for the holidays, Lofy urged people to limit social contacts to no more than five people outside of your household per week, and keep your social inner interactions as short as possible.
Officials from the governor’s office, the state Department of Health (DOH) and a number of local health districts said they aren’t ready to go back to a stay-home order but didn’t rule it out if the fall surge continues.
“We do not want to take further actions that will further hurt our economy. But unfortunately, if we continue on this trajectory, at some point we may need to,” Lofy said.
If you have a question you haven’t seen addressed in The Seattle Times’ coverage, ask it at st.news/coronavirus-questions or via the form below.