Health officials were cautiously positive Wednesday as they talked about how the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic is going.
Secretary of Health John Wiesman said at the weekly briefing held by leaders of the state’s COVID-19 response: “In brief, there is good news. We have a great deal of work obviously left to do, but we are showing some success in our efforts such as increasing the use of face coverings and seeing an encouraging decline in daily new case counts.”
State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy said: “We continue to see some positive signs in our data.”
Showing a graph of confirmed cases counts, Lofy said: “Over the past few weeks we are now clearly starting to see a decline in the number of cases that are being detected here in Washington.”
It takes a few weeks, Lofy said, “to make sure that you’re sort of confident in what you’re seeing. And we’re starting to feel more confident that this trend that we’re seeing is real.”
It looks like activity might have peaked in mid July, she said.
Showing another graph, Lofy said the proportion of people going to emergency departments with COVID-like illness seems to have peaked at the end of March during the first wave of the pandemic, and during the recent wave it looks like it peaked in mid July.
She also talked about the number of hospitalizations for confirmed cases of COVID-19.
“It appears that toward the end of July we’re now starting to see this data flatten out,” she said.
She cautioned, “We still have a lot of activity. So while we are starting to see some positive signs, activity is still high, and as you all know, so high that most of our schools are planning to start the school year in a remote learning model.”
Tuesday the state reported 504 new cases and 19 deaths, bringing Washington to 64,151 cases and 1,716 deaths.
“It’s incredibly important that we continue to take all the public health measures we’ve been talking about to continue to bring COVID activity down in our state,” Lofy said.
That means masks, social distancing, and limiting interactions with others.
“Fewer, shorter interactions is really what we’re trying to do,” she said.
She noted that in early June about four or five deaths were being reported a day, and that the most recent data shows about 10 deaths reported per day.
“I believe we haven’t seen the flattening out in this graph yet because death is our slowest indicator,” she said.
There was a lot of disease in people ages 39 and younger during the increase in cases this summer, she said. There seems to be a flattening of that about mid July, but she said there were still increases as of then in people above the age of 40.
“I think this is just another example of the fact that we’re all connected in our communities,” she cautioned. “So if we see COVID disease in a certain community, a certain age group, it is likely if it’s spreading and the outbreak is growing, it is likely to get into other age groups.”
The reproductive number for Eastern Washington was recently below 1 for the first time, Lofy said, which means for each person who has COVID-19, less than one person is becoming infected. That means “that the outbreak is decreasing in size,” she said.
Western Washington was slightly above 1, she said.
Wiesman talked about a change in the state’s methodology for reporting testing.
Thus far, “if someone tests negative multiple times, we only report out their first negative test,” he said.
“As the epidemic has progressed and retesting is increasing, we’ve decided to change our data processing and report all of the tests received in our testing dashboard, and use this data to calculate both daily testing volumes and the positive rate.”
They’ll start reporting all new negative tests, he said, but it’ll be a bit before that’s shown on the state’s COVID-19 data dashboard.
“This work is probably going to take us a week or more to do …” he said. “… we will not update these data until we have transitioned to the new system, and we’ll make sure to make a note of that on our dashboard.”
The “data issues” haven’t affected the state’s response to the pandemic, he said.
“We’ve had all the raw incoming data the whole time,” Wiesman said.