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Facing the COVID-19 ‘fall surge,’ health officials encourage new habits when it comes to masks

As much as we all would like to point at outbreaks at medical facilities and among college students, we can only blame ourselves when it comes to a steady, troubling rise in COVID-19 cases underway around Seattle.

And we have company. Washington health officials said this week that a “fall surge” in the virus can be seen in case totals across the United States and Europe.

“It started with the smoke event and the turn in the weather that we think brought a lot of people indoors,” Seattle-King County health officer Jeff Duchin said in this KUOW report on the surge. This week, more than 83,000 new U.S. cases were reported in a single day — a new record and a step toward what officials predict will bring more than 100,000 new cases every day in the country.

Despite the surge, there are better signs of hope than the first two peaks seen this spring and then again in summer. Hospitalizations and deaths have slowed. And we know much more about how to stamp down the spread.

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In our state — there is still no national face covering mandate — officials are asking people to consider a new approach to wearing masks. The coverings, proven to cut down on spread of the virus, should be a more regular habit, officials said this week, including when seeing even close friends and relatives.

  • Wearing a mask, even with people you see regularly and in your smallest social circles and anytime you are using shared transportation, including while in your own vehicle with other people.

  • Keeping gatherings small and hold them outside whenever possible.

  • Avoiding any social gatherings indoors, but if you must participate, wearing a mask and ensuring windows and doors are open to maximize ventilation.

  • Washing or sanitizing hands often and not touching your face.

  • Staying home if you’re sick or if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19.

The message? If you are around other people, it doesn’t hurt to have a mask on — and it could help keep thousands from getting sick or dying and allow businesses and activities to remain open under current levels of restriction.

Seattle and King County are both working to move past the phase process used to provide a framework of restrictions during the summer to help slow the spread of COVID-19 to a more surgical approach to reopenings that has made monitoring current infection and positivity rate metrics tantamount to checking weather reports and advisories. Do the kids have a soccer game Saturday? Only if the total number of cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks is 75 or below.

As fall has set in, King County’s measurements have not looked good with the two key measures of positive cases per 100,000 people over the previous two weeks, and the rate of increase in new cases both having swung into concerning territory.

Unsurprisingly, some of the most impactful reopening is now on hold. Friday, Seattle Public Schools announced it will remain in remote learning mode through the end of January with limited in-person instruction for students in need of special education. “This was a very difficult decision,” the district said in its announcement. “We are committed to working with families, students, and community to continue to refine our approach to remote learning and support high-quality instruction no matter the circumstances.”

King County’s daily totals are currently recording somewhere around 200 positive cases a day, driving the total number above 26,000 since the start of the pandemic. The positive case peaks can be clearly seen in the chart of the data as the third surge forms. While 789 COVID-19 related deaths have been reported, that terrible trendline has fortunately not followed the peaks in cases. The hope is that trend continues and with better habits around masks and careful distancing, we can slow down the spread of new cases, too.

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1 month ago

Would be a lot easier to avoid indoor gatherings if the city subsidized or incentivized outdoor heating and tenting for restaurants.

And I’d say the same about picnic areas at parks, but that’s obviously a whole other can of worms.

1 month ago

A great deal of the blame belongs not on ourselves but on bungled, confusing, and inconsistent messages about best ways to stop or slow the spread, including failure to look at the practices of Asian nations that successfully contained the virus. This failure and bungling from leaders sowed so much unnecessary confusion and seeded today’s fear and confusion. It’s hard for me to blame my scared and confused neighbors when professionals/experts got so much wrong from the gate and now want to blame the people they are supposed to protect and advocate for. Yes, some people make bad choices that create high risk. But our leaders really bear the largest share of responsibility for this.

Randy from POWHat
Randy from POWHat
1 month ago

Hi. I’m a gay man who came out in 1982 as AIDS was killing hundreds every week. What I learned from having to live with a deadly virus in the community is this: you can’t negotiate with a virus, and you can’t bargain with it, and you’re damn lucky if you know how it spreads and are able to do the things that stop it from spreading. With COVID-19 we are damn lucky we know now how it spreads, and we are damn lucky that the things that stop it from spreading are so easy to do. It breaks my heart to know that we could have and still can drive this virus out of existence in 8 to 10 weeks — if literally everyone wore a mask every time they leave their house, no exceptions. If the virus can’t infect new people, it dies, because once it infects you, either it kills you, or your immune system kills it. If it can’t spread to anyone else, it dies. No more people getting sick, no more people dying.