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Washington outbreak, IDM report
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Report: COVID-19 infections in Eastern Washington ‘slowly increasing’

One side of the marquee of the Bing Crosby Theater in downtown Spokane. (Libby Kamrowski/The Spokesman-Review via AP)

A new report from Bellevue’s Institute for Disease Modeling (IDM) concluded that both Eastern and Western Washington’s COVID-19 outbreaks are far from over, with transmission actually increasing in the former.

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“Washington state remains on a knife’s edge,” the study warned.

State officials cautioned that the report indicates “how critical physical distancing and other disease control measures continue to be.”

“We’ve seen some success in our state because of the work each and every one of us is doing to stop the spread of the virus, and an exponential increase in cases is still a possibility,” said Secretary of Health John Wiesman. “I’m asking everyone to keep up the good work to protect their families and communities.”

The IDM has frequently pointed to something known as an effective reproduction number (Re) as an indication of the outbreak’s status, a figure that represents the estimated number of people one person with the virus could infect.

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Typically, a region wants to get that number below 1 as a benchmark for starting to quell its outbreak. In both Eastern and Western Washington, the Re number has not significantly changed between April and early May, sitting around 1.07 in the former, and 1.0 in the latter.

“Our estimates suggest that transmission is persisting in Western WA and slowly increasing in Eastern WA,” the IDM said in its report release on May 12. “Moreover, the vast majority of people on both sides of the Cascades remain fully susceptible to COVID, and as a result, exponential growth of disease burden is still a possibility across Washington.”

That’s led to a “steady rise in daily cases” in Eastern Washington “with increasing transmission” to boot. In Western Washington, “daily cases and mortality are starting to plateau.”

That being so, the IDM said Washingtonians should expect physical distancing measures “to be a part of our lives in some form for a while,” a strategy it describes as “our main tool to limit COVID-19’s spread.”

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