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COVID-19 updates: Washington cases ‘plateauing,’ the last time somebody died of coronavirus on Capitol Hill, and a possible school delay

At the start, the goal was to “flatten the curve” but it turns out that might not be enough. Seattle’s summer’s end may include a “plateauing” of COVID-19 cases along with the ongoing burst of hot weather. The findings in the latest Washington Department of Healthsituational report” (PDF) indicate a slowing of new cases in all ages across King County and the state. But that flattening means the pandemic and its effects appear set to carry on into fall.

Meanwhile, county officials have also increased efforts to encourage people to wear proper face coverings with a mask distribution effort that brought hundreds of free masks to the Central District last week.

Masks: The King County mask distribution program comes as officials purchased 25 million cloth and disposable masks “in an effort to provide these critical supplies to our communities as we enter new phases of re-opening in the wake of COVID-19.” The county says it is working with chambers of commerce, cities, community organizations, churches, and senior centers to get the supplies out to residents.

Last week, King County Council member Girmay Zahilay was handing out masks at the Liberty Bank Building just off 23rd and Union in the Central District. You can learn more about the free mask program here.

“As we loosen restrictions around King County and Washington State, there’s disproportionality in who is affected by coronavirus,” Zahilay told King County Equity Now. “We’re trying to go to locations where we know target populations live.”

The mask initiative in King County comes as there is increased understanding in the important role masks and face coverings can play in slowing the spread of the virus that has sickened nearly 18,000 across the county. A study from Duke University also showed which types of masks are most effective — for most, the big takeaway was that the popular neck gaiters might be a problem while others have already debunked the snap judgment.

Latest numbers and the ‘plateau’: Meanwhile, after a run-up in cases through July, August started with what looks to be a slowdown in new COVID-19 cases in King County and across Washington. The state analysis says there might also be some good news inside the plateau. “Additional positive news is that a plateauing of cases is generally occurring across age groups in both western and eastern Washington (Spokane excepted),” the state report reads. “This reflects an improvement over our previous report which noted continued increases among older age groups, generating concern about potentially increasing hospitalizations.”

The summer’s rise in cases has been fueled by an increase in cases in younger people with those 40 or below now the majority of the state’s COVID-19 cases, “with 39% in people aged 20-39 (the largest share of cases for any age group) and 12% in people 19 or younger,” the Seattle Times reports. The state has repeatedly said that large gatherings and parties have driven this summer’s increases while service and labor jobs are also possible factors.

Washington’s case spikes have mostly not included large jumps in hospitalizations and deaths. Across Capitol Hill and the Central District, the last COVID-19 death recorded by county officials happened in mid-June. Stil, positive cases spiked through July and have pushed the county totals to more than 17,000 sick and 687 dead since the start of the pandemic. It is worse elsewhere in the union. Washington’s rate of around 850 positive cases per 100,000 puts it at about half of the current national average.

The economy: Capitol Hill bars, restaurants, and small businesses have continued to struggle through the heath crisis. The summer uptick in cases brought new restrictions to industries already challenged by the economic fallout. Earlier this month, the Seattle City Council was forced to reduce the size of its COVID-19 economic relief package as the forecasted economic downturn hitting is Seattle is now predicted to be even more dire. Help at the federal level is uncertain. In Washington D.C., work on a new economic relief package remains nearly hopelessly stalled. For now in Seattle sunshine, you might want to enjoy a visit to a Capitol Hill restaurant with outside seating while you still can.

Back to school: Summer’s end will also bring the start of school in Seattle with plans for a fully virtual start to the school year. But even that certainty has grown a little fuzzy — the district may delay the planned September 2nd start date as it tries to reach an agreement with the teachers union on remote learning training. Other aspects like school sports are either being rescheduled or canceled. What would it take to reopen schools fully in King County? A lot.

Meanwhile, there is evidence that some planning is beginning around the logistics of distributing a coronavirus vaccine.

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