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Washington’s COVID crisis ‘at a crossroads’ headed into fall, winter months

Mask-wearing continues to be a key recommendation of local health officials. (Seattle-King County Public Health, Facebook)

As Washington state moves into the colder fall and winter months, its COVID-19 response will soon arrive at a key juncture, according to the latest report from the state Department of Health.

Report: COVID cases have ‘declined substantially’ in Washington

“We are at a crossroads statewide as people begin to spend more time indoors and some schools move to hybrid or other in-person models,” the DOH described. “Even slight increases in transmission due to these changes, may result in exponential growth.”

Meanwhile, overall case counts in both Western and Eastern Washington have continued to decrease, although not in a uniform way across regions. While some parts of the state are seeing consistently declining case totals, others like Spokane, Pierce, Clark, Benton, and Franklin counties have seen troubling plateaus.

“These plateaus have become prominent, and they raise cause for concern as risk may increase going into the fall,” the DOH report reads. “Spokane in particular is of concern, as cases have increased subsequent to September 10 despite incomplete reporting.”

Washington Department of Health changes test reporting for COVID-19

As cold weather begins to push more people inside, that in turn raises the risk of transmission. The DOH recommends keeping indoor gatherings “as small as possible” to mitigate that risk, as well as limiting the amount of time you spend with people outside your household.

Between that, wearing a mask in public at all times, and continuing to adhere to basic social and physical distancing practices, there’s hope that “small improvements to current practices, widely distributed, can crush the curve heading into the fall.”

“Working together, each of us doing what we can consistently, will get us through this challenging period, with many lives saved and children back in school,” the DOH said. “While we cannot know the future, after 7 months of learning from data, there is hope if we continue to work together to mitigate transmission.”

As of early September, the effective reproductive number (Re) — a numerical value denoting the number of people a single person with the virus would likely infect — sat around 1.14 in Western Washington, and 0.92 in Eastern Washington. Generally, an Re number under 1.0 is benchmark for success in getting a COVID-19 outbreak under control.

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