OLYMPIA — After a summer in which Washington health officials often announced as many as 800 or 1,000 new confirmed COVID-19 cases daily, Gov. Jay Inslee Thursday said he was “cautiously pleased” the state’s situation is now improving.
Tallies for new daily confirmed cases have trended down, which has also brought down the average number of cases per 100,000 state residents over a recent two-week span.
In a news conference, the governor also cited a model showing a dip in the rate of transmission, which estimates how many people an infected person goes on to sicken.
“I am cautiously pleased to tell you that we have seen a decline in diagnosed cases in the last two weeks and that some of our other data shows some positive trends,” said Inslee.
Not long after his remarks, however, state health officials announced 700 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, as well as 15 deaths. That brings Washington’s total number of diagnoses to 69,389, including 1,837 deaths, according to the state Department of Health.
The recent trends — if they hold — come after a six-month slog in Washington and across the nation to slow or stop the virus. Now, universities and K-12 school districts are determining whether and how to reopen.
Even a continuing downward trend doesn’t mean restrictions on business and social activities will necessarily end anytime soon.
“As we’re thinking about our restrictions in our lives, you know, our goal is to get our kids back into on-site instruction,” said Inslee.
“And if it’s a choice between some of our activities that would increase the infection rate or getting kids to school … getting them back into school buildings really has to be the priority.”
In the two-week period ending Aug. 17, Washington on average saw 110 new cases per 100,000 residents, according to the governor’s office.
That is down from a high of about 149 diagnoses for 100,000 residents in the two-week period leading up to July 23.
Inslee also shared modeling indicating the estimated transmission rate of the disease has dropped across the state to a level of about one. That figure — which the state tracks in both Eastern and Western Washington — means the number of people a sick person goes on to infect is one.
Those estimates by the Bellevue-based Institute for Disease Modeling shows in Western Washington in mid-June, an infected person was going on to sicken an average of more than 1.5 others.
For a substantial reduction in new confirmed cases, that rate would likely have to drop below one, meaning sick people would go on to infect fewer than one person.
The governor credited the recent declines largely to his statewide requirement to wear facial coverings, as well as an earlier, similar local effort in Yakima County.
Health officials tried to find other reasons to explain the decrease in cases, looking at cellphone data showing how much people are traveling, he said, but haven’t seen a connection.
The governor noted that Washington has done well compared to most other states in the number of confirmed cases per capita.
“But you’ve got to take that with a big grain of salt,” he said. “Because this thing can just spring back on you, and it has in other states.”