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Happy Maskgiving — Officials worried about holiday surge as gatherings fuel continued spread of COVID-19

We have a statewide mask mandate and officials who have taken the risk seriously, implementing prudent restrictions on businesses and gatherings. And, yet, the virus continues to spread in Seattle.

COVID-19 is living up to the worst concerns about its ability to move thoroughly and quickly as a fall surge in cases continues in the city and King County while cases in the nation and around the world also hit all-time highs.

“If this outbreak is allowed to continue to grow, we will see impacts on our healthcare system that are intolerable,” Dr. Jeffrey Duchin of Seattle and King County Public Health said Friday.

In King County, the key measure of total cases per 100,000 residents over the last two weeks hit nearly 150 positives a day — the highest point recorded for the metric and about three times the rate measured at its September recent low. The average will be rising — King County recorded a daily positive case total above 500 in its most recent update. The rate of hospitalization, meanwhile, has fortunately remained steady. But even without a major increase in that rate, the illness is capable of overwhelming the local health care system.

The death rate has dropped and leveled off but, still, 810 have died in the county of COVID-19 complications. In the ZIP codes covering Capitol Hill and much of the Central District, there have been 11 recorded COVID-19 related deaths — but only two since the end of August. In Seattle, the south of the city has continued to suffer the highest rates of new cases as issues of equity continue to play a major factor in efforts to slow the spread of the virus.

Duchin said that the current surge in positive cases is lining up to accelerate into the holiday season if people continue to gather with groups of family and friends. Duchin said Friday he is “incredibly worried” about Thanksgiving which has the potential to swing the county’s health system into an “unmanageable” situation.

At the center of worries from health officials are increasingly burdened hospital and emergency facilities and people who could have been more thoroughly treated suffering worse outcomes because of a lack of resources.

Human nature is not helping. State and local officials say the fall surge here is being fueled by small gatherings with friends and family when masks come off and the virus is given even more opportunity to spread.

CHS reported on worries headed into fall and calls for new habits when it comes to masks and precautions like hand washing. You should wash your hands more frequently. And you should get used to wearing a mask when around other people. But, mostly, you should try to stay home.

Health officials are also encouraging people to get flu shots as early as possible to help keep cases down and reduce that seasonal burden on the medical system.

In addition to the risks of illness, the surging totals could have serious implications for businesses and public spaces. Officials will consider recommendations that could bring the return of specific restrictions on businesses and gathering spaces if the outbreak surge continues, Duchin said Friday.

UPDATE 11/10/2020 2:30 PM: State officials said today that the latest situational report for Washington indicates that COVID-19 transmission “is happening at an accelerated pace across the entire state.” No new restrictions were announced. The full announcement is below.

Today the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) released the latest statewide situation report on COVID-19 transmission, which shows disease transmission is happening at an accelerated pace across the entire state.

Report findings include:

  • Disease is spreading rapidly across Washington. The best estimates of the reproductive number (how many new people each COVID-19 patient will infect) are 1.29 in western Washington and 1.36 in eastern Washington as of October 30. The goal is a number well below one, which would mean COVID-19 transmission is declining.
  • From mid to late-October, case counts and hospitalizations have increased in both western and eastern Washington. Although some of the increase in cases through early October is related to increased testing volumes, more recent case counts in both eastern and western Washington have increased, despite testing volumes being flat.
  • Hospitalizations will continue to rise in western Washington even if cases start to plateau. Hospital admissions in western Washington have been increasing since the start of October. Because patients may stay in the hospital for up to several weeks, hospital occupancy will continue to rise for some time after hospital admissions level off.

“I am extremely concerned about what seems to be an accelerating trend in the spread of COVID-19. Immediate action is needed from all of us to avoid new restrictions and prevent our hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.” said State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy. “This situation is extraordinarily urgent, and we’re running out of time to change direction. We need everyone in Washington state to take action now to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

There is still time for Washingtonians to make a difference. Wear a mask around people you don’t live with (even close friends and family). Stay home as much as possible, limit the number, size and frequency of gatherings, and only attend gatherings that are essential. Wash your hands frequently, get your flu shot, and stay home if you’re sick. People who want to visit family for Thanksgiving should limit themselves to only the most essential activities now, and essentially quarantine for two weeks before even a small outdoor gathering.

Get tips for safer gatherings and ideas for alternative celebrations here.

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