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DOH concerned over ‘steadily increasing’ COVID cases in Western Washington

A drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in Federal Way. (Seattle-King County Public Health, Facebook)

The latest report from the Washington Department of Health points to “steadily increasing” COVID-19 case numbers in Western Washington since the start of October.

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This has largely been driven by increases in a handful of highly-populated areas, including King, Pierce, Snohomish, Thurston, Kitsap, and Clark counties, as well as in a handful of smaller counties like Lewis, Mason, Pend Oreille, and Skagit.

Increases in cases in the region are consistent “across all age groups and over broad geographic areas.” Despite high-profile outbreaks at the University of Washington and Washington State University, that still “represents a small fraction of all cases,” pointing to a larger-scale budding outbreak across all demographics.

“This suggests increases are due to broad community spread, not driven by a single type of activity or setting,” the DOH theorized in its report.

That makes the more likely culprit “the beginnings of a seasonal effect due to both changes in indoor gathering behavior and possibly poorly under weather-related factors.”

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In the days ahead, the DOH warns that “this current pattern is likely to continue and possible accelerate” as colder weather in the fall and winter months drives more people indoors.

As of late September, the effective reproductive number in Western Washington — a numerical value indicating the number of people one person with the virus would likely infect — sat at 1.12. The benchmark for declining COVID-19 transmission is under 1.0.

Meanwhile, cases in Eastern Washington have plateaued, but the DOH warns the situation east of the Cascades still remains “unstable.”

“Increases and decreases in both cases and hospitalizations over the course of September illustrate that Eastern Washington is in a precarious position, where localized lapses in behaviors to reduce transmission can rapidly reverse decreasing trends in cases and potentially lead to increases in COVID-19 mortality,” the DOH said.

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