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Report: Only 15 confirmed COVID cases at outdoor Seattle encampments

A homeless camp in South Lake Union. (Jason Rantz, KTTH)

One of the early concerns in Seattle as the pandemic grew is that COVID-19 would spread rapidly among homeless individuals at outdoor encampments in the city.

Luckily, it seems few outbreaks have materialized, with only 15 confirmed COVID-19 cases found in outdoor communities in King County, according to the Seattle Times. The last homeless count determined that approximately 5,500 homeless people — about half the total Seattle homeless population — were living outside, which could be even higher now due to the pandemic.

“We’re assuming that they didn’t get it, or we’re assuming they got it, didn’t realize they had it. It just went with all their other maladies that they had. Maybe they smoke, maybe they cough a lot to begin with, they’ve got a whole bunch of medical challenges that they have by living outside,” said KIRO Radio’s John Curley.

“Maybe they don’t feel the fact that they have COVID, they’re not going to get tested, so we don’t know how many of them had it and got over it, or gave it to somebody else,” he added.

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The low reported case number at the encampments could also be due to how many people with COVID are asymptomatic, which, for Curley, points to the problematic way in which we walk about cases.

“The CDC said, ‘You know, we might be undercounting the number of people that have COVID by 24 times.’ … They think it would be as much as 120 million Americans have had it or had it; asymptomatic, had it and went on, didn’t know they had it, … but again, your chance of surviving is 99.5%, and there’s 0.5% that you will get it and die, most likely if you are 75 or older and you have additional conditions. So that’s just basically the facts,” he said.

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“But that’s not important,” he continued. “What’s important is we continue to talk about how horrible it is, even though today, if you look at the number of deaths in the United States have decreased by 18%. Cases have come down as well, but that’s not the story we’ll hear from CBS News. No, it’s continuing, continuing, continuing to scare the hell out of everybody and make everybody extremely scared.”

For Curley, what would be ideal is if we were able to know the total number of people who had COVID and were unaware, difficult as that would be to get.

“What makes this thing difficult is the fact that you could be asymptomatic, have it and get over it, now you’re not even in the big number,” he said.

Curley thinks knowing the number of people who had it and got over it “can have an effect upon how you feel about the other number,” meaning the number of people who have had severe cases or died.

“I’m not taking anything away from the people who have dealt with it,” he added. “My friend Ralph called me today, told me his mom died. My heart breaks. His father dealt with it too and got over it. The number that you need to look at is those that have had it and got over it. And the number is 99.5% chance of survival.”

Listen to the Tom and Curley Show weekdays from 3 – 7 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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