Western Washington entering 'fall surge' as state reports rapid increase in COVID-19 cases

The battle to contain COVID-19 is entering a new season and health officials are concerned that a predicted fall surge in cases has already arrived. The State Department of Health reports King, Pierce and Snohomish counties are driving the surge in western Washington.

The curve of new cases is up in all three counties since the start of October, and together, they account for nearly half of all of the state's total COVID cases since the start of the pandemic. Only two other counties have reported 8,000 cases as the state closes in on 100,000 positives as of October 20th.

As the weather turns, more people will be spending time indoors, which could potentially lead to a third wave of high case numbers if people are not careful.

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“We could see more cases in the fall and winter as more people spend time indoors. So, we’re closely monitoring this,” said Lacy Fehrenbach, DOH’s deputy secretary for COVID response.

Fehrenbach said COVID-19 cases are climbing at an alarming rate in western Washington. She explained there is no single cause attributed to the rapid growth.

“We’re seeing increase across all age groups, which means it’s multiple factors that are driving this, not a single age group or sector,” said Fehrenbach.

DOH reports the sharp, upward trends in some western Washington communities are reaching or surpassing previous peaks seen in the last seven months of the pandemic.

“We’re all tired of the virus. We understand that COVID fatigue is real. The unfortunate thing is the virus is still with us and it’s still threatening our health system and it’s still threatening the health and well-being of Washingtonians,” said Fehrenbach.

Fehrenbach said the problem is not enough people are wearing masks, washing hands, maintaining a safe distance, and limiting gatherings.

“We really have to double down our efforts on those blunt community mitigation factors that help us limit the spread—wearing our face coverings anytime we’re with other people, making sure that when we are in public spaces or at work or at school or any congregate setting that we’re maintaining six feet of physical distance,” said Fehrenbach. “Really limiting our gatherings—shorter gatherings, gatherings with fewer people, gatherings outdoors are certainly safer than large gatherings, indoor gatherings and long gatherings.”

The Snohomish Health District is echoing the same message.

“This is our chance as a community to try to bend the curve and not have to resort to blunter instruments that have effects on parts of the public life and the economy that may not even be contributing to what’s going on,” said Dr. Chris Spitters, health officer for Snohomish Health District.

Spitters said the health district continue having conversations with DOH and other local health departments. He mentioned part of those discussions includes readjusting some safety recommendations in order to slow the spread.

“Unmitigated, it’s going to go in a bad direction and we could end up back where we were last March, both in terms of hospital capacity and consequently the measures that would need to be taken to bring things back under control,” said Spitters.

Though reinforcing strict guidelines again is the last resort, Fehrenbach said the idea isn’t off the table as DOH continues exploring all options to help reduce the spread of coronavirus.

“If we can keep that curve flat and keep our case counts low, then we can continue to keep our economy open, we can continue to safely do the things that we love and really importantly we can get our children back to school for in-person learning all while preventing overwhelm of our healthcare system,” said Fehrenbach. “We still have time to act and change the course.”