COVID-19 surge in 'uncharted territory'
Prevention remains top priority
Last updated 11/14/2020 at 9:27am
Updated Nov. 13, 2020 at 9 a.m .:
Snohomish County is one of the high infection-rate counties in the state for COVID-19 and officials are warning all as the holidays roll in: take action to avoid spreading the virus.
Hospital capacity and vulnerable populations remain the key motivators to avoid spread.
Officials have said since the start of the pandemic, in March, that if hospital resources are overstretched, the impact will not only put additional COVID-19 patients at risk but those in need of emergency care for heart attacks, car wrecks and other immediate medical needs.
Department of Health statistics show Snohomish County is one of the five counties in the state with the highest infection rate for COVID-19. State data is here: https://bit.ly/35qIwWA
Governor Jay Inslee urged residents last night (Nov. 12) in a live streamed fireside-chat style announcement that remote celebrating is advised for Thanksgiving and other usual times to gather. For those who choose to congregate anyway, quarantining for 14 days prior is the best decision, he said, timing his talk with "day one" on the calendar, on the way to Thanksgiving.
He sat next to First Lady Trudi Inslee, in an apparent hope to relate to viewers and urge compliance to what is now common health advice to prevent exponential spread of the virus.
Distance and caution were vehemently advised by the Joint Information Commission in Snohomish County earlier this week (Nov. 9), as COVID-19 cases rise past levels seen in the spring when the entire state was required to shelter in place.
"It's much like we're driving on ice that when we hit the brakes we're still going to keep moving," said health officer at the Snohomish Health District, Dr. Chris Spitters.
Spitters advised the same 14-day quarantine.
The rolling two-week count for the County was 188 per 100,000, a record-breaking spike higher than any time since case-counting began. Updates will post here, when new data is collected: https://www.snohd.org/546/Local-Case-Counts
Snohomish County recorded 10,707 cases Nov. 12. That's up 252 cases since Nov. 10, according to the Snohomish County Health District's local case counts. Another 1,295 cases are listed as "probable" COVID-19 patients. Mill Creek had 227 cases with 136 recovered as of Nov. 12. Bothell is at 871 (617 recovered), and Snohomish at 778 (563 recovered).
City counts include both confirmed and probable cases, the health district states.
Exponential growth: 2 + 2 plus does not equal 4
The warning to stay distant circles around the concept of exponential spread: the idea that one person, when practicing normal social interactions, has the possibility of spreading a virus to every person he or she engages with, and each of those people have the possibility of doing the same. A linear increase would be one to one. An exponential increase would be one to many, and that "many" spreads to many more. And on from there. Viral spread for COVID-19 is occurring from family members and close contacts, according to health officials drawing from contact tracing information.
Holiday activities increase risk of spiking numbers more, officials say.
Nearly 1,300 probable cases are awaiting investigation from the health district to determine if those will be included in the current counts. The change from Nov. 9 to the following day was an additional 132 cases. The change from Nov. 10 to Nov. 12 was 252.
Updated information is here: https://bit.ly/2Uk1mZa.
With winter months arriving, people are more often indoors, adding to the risk of spread, officials warned.
"We're breaking COVID case records, and really headed into uncharted territory," Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said in the Tuesday press briefing by the JIC, part of the emergency coordination center for the county.
Harvard Health says aerosolized coronavirus can remain in the air for up to three hours. Those germs are released when a person talks or breathes, even if asymptomatic.
"Make a bubble of the five or fewer social contacts outside your household, and stick to that," Spitters said. “And I recommend that you keep it to the same five across time till we get a little further down the road with this."
Ideally, he said it is never a good idea at this stage of the pandemic for more than five people to gather. Officials are even advising that people mask up inside their own homes, to avoid spreading germs within their own bubble.
"Frankly, for the best public health outcome I recommend, you know if we could tolerate it – zero people outside our households at this point. But I think we have to be realistic – people need some level of social support and interaction. But let's do this," Spitters said.
Researchers are hopeful about a vaccine, with multiple options being tested. If that materializes, it is still at least a year before everyone could receive it, Spitters said. So the fix remains unchanged and focused around prevention.
Doctors warn of optimism about vaccines, as the clinical trial process takes time and numbers: enough people need to get the vaccine and show data of success before it can be considered a reliable prevention for the illness.
COVID-19 does not appear to be dangerous to the majority of those infected, but the death rate is much higher than the flu, and no cure is yet found for those who become severely ill, doctors say. Based on death certificate data reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of deaths attributed to pneumonia, influenza and COVID-19 combined for week ending on Halloween was 8.1%.
Officials advise that people get a flu shot this year, and that is part of why: to avoid more illness and preserve medical resources as communities move through the next wave of COVID-19.
The U.S. is at 2.3% for death rate, according to an analysis by Johns Hopkins University: https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/data/mortality
Data in motion rates through Johns Hopkins are here: https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/covid-19-daily-video
Emergency care and resources
The impetus behind all this caution and prevention is keeping hospital capacity manageable and safe. Resources spread to thin will limit care for both COVID-19 patients and other hospitalized patients.
"That's one of our key priorities from the beginning and keeping our hospitals from being overwhelmed is top priority," Somers said. "These are some grim numbers we're looking at. They harken back to a time that was very difficult on everyone last winter. So this is information for you to help yourself and help the community."
The overfilling of hospitals is a twin concern to the protection of high risk people. The spike in cases is statewide, with updated numbers here: https://bit.ly/3lmOhKr. Cumulatively, the Department of Health reports 120,011 and 2,482 COVID-19 deaths in Washington state as of Nov. 9.
"We have nowhere else to send our patients if we run out of space here because everyone else is in the same boat in our region. So this is definitely a warning signal."
Beyond what Spitters describes as "just the general suffering that the infection causes," is medical resources and how far they can go. Other patients are sidelined when COVID patients must be prioritized, to restore breathing.
"Hopefully, we can bend this curve and get things back down before it does exceed capacity," Spitters said. He said it's not just beds and personal protective equipment -- which currently are relatively OK compared to what they have been since the pandemic began -- but staffing is a major problem. “There's a nursing shortage nationwide and in the region. So sometimes even though hospitals have beds, they don't have the people to put next to the bed to take care of the patient. So this is, I think, an impending crisis, if we don't bend this curve."
As the colder weather brings people indoors, and potentially together with people outside the “bubble” for holiday gatherings, officials are concerned.
"The third wave virus appears to be the largest wave yet (and the) fact that we're entering winter months with the highest case counts yet should really send shivers down to everybody's spine," Somers said.
Look for updates, here, on COVID-19 and other news http://www.millcreekbeacon.com. Print versions of the Mill Creek Beacon are published every Friday.