Seattle might be in the middle of a 100-day lockdown to beat the coronavirus.
Two of the most widely followed models measuring how governments are faring in their battles to push down the COVID-19 outbreak agree: Washington is still weeks away from being able to safely lift its most important restrictions.
The new reports come as Washington nears the end of Gov. Jay Inslee’s latest emergency order extending restrictions in the state including a “stay home” lockdown that has been in place in Seattle since March 11th and since was expanded across the state. In Seattle, residents have now been hunkering down for about 46 days.
The latest report (PDF) from Bellevue’s Institute for Disease Modeling includes what researchers say is evidence that Washington’s infection rate is continuing to decrease — but at a pace so slow that we’ll need restrictions in place through May to have a chance to successfully corral the virus:
Without new or strengthened interventions to further reduce the rate of transmission, COVID prevalence will likely only slowly decline and may plateau. Policy action to reduce transmission further may be required to bring daily case counts down before partial relaxation of social distancing policies can occur without substantial risks to the community and healthcare system. However, there is still a great deal of uncertainty about how to achieve further transmission reductions and how to quickly measure the impacts of policy changes before the consequences become clear in case data.
The IDMOD researchers conclude that King County’s infection rate has remained stable and that “the continued persistence at this level of transmission will lead to at best a slow decline in the daily case rate through the end of May and beyond.”
“Thus, the future outcomes in the region remain exquisitely sensitive to policy changes and public adherence to physical distancing guidelines,” they write.
Increased restrictions like “tightened physical distancing recommendations” could be needed, the researchers write. “Scaled up testing and contact-tracing strategies on top of current restrictions” could also be enough to push the region over the hump.
The forecast lines up with the latest report (PDF) from another influential moderer at the UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Included in its state by state forecasts for the nation, the IHME lumps Washington into its bands of states lining up for a predicted end of May social distancing policy “easing” and meeting the “1 prevalent case per 1,000,000 threshold.”
CHS COVID-19 TIMELINE: + Feb. 29 First ‘presumptive positive’ COVID-19 case in King County + Mar. 11 Washington puts ‘over 250’ restrictions in place + Mar. 11 Schools closed + Mar. 15 Restaurants and bars closed, ‘over 50’ threshold + Mar. 21 Police begin clearing parks + Apr. 2 Washington restrictions extended + Apr. 6 Schools closed for rest of year + Apr. 8 Can’t relax those social restrictions yet but, exhale, Seattle — COVID-19 model says you’ve made it through this outbreak’s peak
Washington officials and Gov. Inslee, meanwhile, have already begun — slowly — to unwind some of the state’s restrictions. Friday, residential-level construction and work on state transportation construction projects was reopened with new safety guidelines shaped by an industry work group. Larger scale construction will follow. State officials say similar loosening should also come soon related to outdoor recreation like fishing or golf as well as allowing elective medical procedures. Similar work groups will be convened for each industry, officials say.
Inslee said last week he would take a “scientific approach” to reopening Washington and its economy in a recovery that will be “more like the turning of a dial than a flip of the switch.” Washington’s current restrictions have been ordered though May 4th. The legally enforceable order restricts activities to only essential needs including visiting health facilities, grocery shopping, and working in “essential businesses” and industries. Restaurants and bars have also been able to continue offering to go and delivery orders. Larger impacts include a halt to most commercial construction that does not involve safety or critical repairs.
In King County, while the rates of new positive cases and deaths have slowed, officials say they would like to see a lower transmission rate in addition to the call for increased testing and contact tracing before social restrictions are lifted. CHS reported here on calls for a “loosen, test, loosen” approach to any relaxation in the orders including requirements for increased testing, contact tracing, and hospitals better prepared for a possible second outbreak. California, Oregon, and Washington have formed a three-state pact to coordinate the transition. The economic impact has been devastating with Washington unemployment claims the “highest on record.”
Through Thursday, there have been 387 deaths reported related to the outbreak including six in the ZIP codes around Capitol Hill. You can see the latest reports on the King County Public Health COVID-19 Data Dashboard.
- 5/4/20: COVID-19 updates: Phase 1 begins, what’s in Phase 2 (and 3 and 4), King County removes antibody testing case counts, COVID-19 yard art
- 5/1/20: Washington extends COVID-19 restrictions through May, readies ‘four phase’ plan for reopening with limits on groups, restaurant capacity, and travel
- 4/30/20: Washington investigating state totals after COVID-19 ‘excess deaths’ report
- 4/30/20: Facing opposition from mayor and chamber advocates, Seattle tax on big businesses for COVID-19 relief and housing moves toward May vote
- Plus: Capitol Hill Restaurants, Bars, and Cafes offering takeout during COVID-19 ‘stay home’ restrictions
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