The number of new daily coronavirus cases was lower than in recent days, but public health officials remain concerned about the sharp upward trend in new cases in recent weeks in the Tri-Cities area.
The percentage of tests that are positive and the number of people being treated for COVID-19 at local hospitals also have increased.
“Over the past month we have just seen an explosion of COVID in our community,” said Heather Hill, communicable disease supervisor for the local health district, during the Kadlec on Call podcast recorded Wednesday evening.
The new cases announced on Thursday bring the average number of daily cases so far this week to an 165 per day.
It compares to 122 cases per day on average last week, 82 per day the previous week and 42 per day the week before that. Local cases are reported on a weekly schedule of the weekend through Friday.
The majority of cases now are in adults ages 20 to 39, Hill said. But public health officials also are seeing increased disease among 10- to 19-year-olds.
The disease activity among that age group is three and a half times higher than the disease rate for 5- to 9-year-olds, she said.
Experience so far in the pandemic has shown that after cases rise in younger people, deaths among the vulnerable elderly population follow, she said.
“Young adults, healthy people can do just fine with COVID,” she said. “But it is those higher risk people that it oftentimes does not end well for.”
Since the start of the pandemic there have been 197 local deaths from complications of COVID-19, including 133 residents of Benton County and 64 residents of Franklin County.
More hospital patients
The number of people hospitalized locally on Thursday for treatment of COVID-19 — either with a positive test result or pending test results — jumped to 47, up from 34 at the start of the week.
The current number of hospitalized patients is more than double the 21 COVID patients a month ago.
The 47 patients hospitalized for COVID treatment on Thursday accounted for 12% of all patients in the hospitals in Richland, Kennewick, Pasco and Prosser.
The Washington state Department of Health says adequate hospital capacity requires COVID patients to be less than 10% of all hospitalized patients.
The COVID case rate based on population is closer to 600 than 500 now in both counties.
The case rate is calculated on the number of new cases over two weeks per 100,000 people, with the most recent rate confirmed by the local health district for the two weeks through Nov. 12.
The latest case rate for Benton County is 582, up from 382 reported a week earlier. The Franklin County rate is 576, up from 399 a week earlier.
“Our frustration is the majority of the outbreaks that we’re seeing that are leading to these high case rates are really in people’s private lives,” Hill said.
The local health district continues to see cases tied to Halloween activities, with infections spread at parties continuing to be passed on to more and more people, Hill said.
It also is looking into some possible Tri-Cities area cases from a large wedding held in a private airport hangar near Ritzville earlier this month.
People from across the state are believed to be among the more than 300 guests at the wedding, which turned into a superspreader event with at least 45 Grant and Adams county cases linked to it as of Wednesday.
Local public health officials also are seeing some cases that appear to be linked to sports, as sporting activities are being moved indoors, where the virus is more likely to spread.
“Heading into Thanksgiving and then Christmas, it’s so extremely important that our community think seriously about what direction we want this disease burden to go,” Hill said.
“It is about doing what’s best for everyone in our community,” she said. “It is for your businesses; it is for our kids in school.”
Testing at capacity
In Benton County 19% of tests for COVID were positive for the seven days ending Nov. 15 and in Franklin County 25% of tests were positive.
A month ago the health district’s testing sites were seeing 8% of tests come back positive, Hill said.
Both drive-thru sites offering free COVID testing in the Tri-Cities are operating at capacity, said Rick Dawson, senior manager for the Benton Franklin Health District.
The testing site at the HAPO Center, formerly TRAC, in Pasco has had its busiest days since opening in June, collecting up to 290 samples a day, Dawson said.
The record at the COVID testing site near Columbia Basin College at 3110 W. Argent Road in Pasco was 828 on a recent day.
Last week the decision was made to expand service at the site by CBC to seven days a week because of its popularity, due in part to test results available in one to three days. It is open 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., except some holidays.
The Washington National Guard operates the drive-thru testing site at the HAPO Center, which is open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. Staffing limitations have kept its operation to four days a week.
More testing sites in Benton and Franklin counties, including clinics, are posted at bit.ly/Tri-CitiesTesting. Preregistration for the testing by the CBC campus also can be done through that site.
The Washington state Department of Health reported 1,303 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 21 deaths on Wednesday. As of Wednesday, more than a quarter million Americans have died from the disease.
Statewide totals from the illness caused by the coronavirus are at 135,424 cases and 2,592 deaths, up from 134,121 cases and 2,571 deaths Tuesday. Washington’s population is estimated at about 7.6 million, according to U.S. Census figures from July 2019.
Forty people were admitted to Washington state hospitals on Oct. 30, the most recent date with complete data. Average daily hospitalizations peaked in early April at 78.
On Nov. 7, the most recent date with complete data, 15,977 specimens were collected statewide, with 8.5% testing positive. The average positive test rate for the seven days prior was 7.2%. More than 2.8 million tests have been conducted in Washington.
The test numbers reflect only polymerase chain reaction tests, which are administered while the virus is presumably still active in the body.
King County continues to have the highest numbers in Washington, with 35,897 cases and 845 deaths. Pierce County is second for cases, with 13,665 and 259 deaths, according to the state’s tally. Spokane County has the third highest number of cases at 13,090 and 227 deaths.
Yakima County ranks fourth for number of cases at 12,671 and third for deaths with 291.
Benton County ranks sixth for number of cases, after Snohomish County, and Franklin County ranks eighth after Clark County.
If Benton and Franklin counties were considered together, they would rank fifth for cases, according to the latest complete data for all counties in the state.
All counties in Washington have cases. Six counties have case counts of fewer than 100, including Columbia County with 26 cases and two deaths.
For the past seven days, Washington had a case rate of 26.8 per 100,000 people. The national rate for the same period is 48.8 per 100,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. North Dakota has the highest rate in the United States, at 185.3. Hawaii is the lowest, at 5.6.
There have been more than 11.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 250,029 deaths from the virus in the United States as of Wednesday afternoon, according to Johns Hopkins University. The United States has the highest number of reported cases and deaths of any nation, although some countries have a higher rate based on population.
More than 1.3 million people have died from the disease worldwide. Global cases exceed 55 million.
Craig Sailor with The (Tacoma News Tribune) contributed to this report.
©2020 Tri-City Herald (Kennewick, Wash.)
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