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Virologist: Washington’s COVID-19 outbreak hasn’t ‘magically disappeared’

Downtown Seattle. (Getty Images)

Even while many states have started relaxing social distancing measures, decreases in daily COVID-19 cases in Washington and the rest of the U.S. have begun to slow.

“We really have plateaued, but we haven’t been seeing huge declines,” Columbia University virologist Dr. Angela Rasmussen told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show.

That’s similar to reports here in Washington, where Dr. Kathy Lofy with the state Department of Health pointed out Wednesday that “we have been stuck on about 200 cases a day for awhile.”

Dr. Lofy says infection rates are falling or holding steady in most places, but are increasing in Yakima and Skagit counties, while the number of hospitalizations has actually decreased. Statewide, Washington saw an increase of 311 cases Wednesday, the largest single-day total since early April.

That comes just over two weeks after protests against the state’s stay-at-home orders began, that saw large groups of people gathering in close proximity. At the time, Dr. Rasmussen “made a mental note to check back on our state case counts in one to two weeks to see if we’ve had any jumps, because those protests do seem like a very good environment to potentially spread coronavirus among the people attending.”

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With new cases where they are right now, she warns that COVID-19 still poses a significant danger both locally and across the country.

“What people need to understand is just because we’re not at the crisis situation that we were at a month ago, it doesn’t mean that the virus has essentially magically disappeared,” Dr. Rasmussen pointed out. “The virus is still spreading in our community, there are still new cases every day, and so for that reason, it’s really important for people to uphold these behavioral guidelines.”

In terms of ensuring people adhere to these guidelines, she noted that messaging at the federal level focused on reopening the economy rather than maintaining safety precautions has presented difficulties for states.

And even with places like Washington having flattened their epidemiological curves, getting to the point where cases are declining rather than plateauing will only become more difficult thanks to that inconsistency, Dr. Rasmussen claims.

“If people are … getting mixed messages from leadership about what they need to do and what the risks actually are, it’s going to be very difficult to actually get these curves to go into a declining phase,” she warned.

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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