‘Concerning trend’ as Puget Sound counties see increasing COVID-19 infections

Health officials in Western Washington warn that counties are heading in the wrong direction as COVID-19 infections increase, attributing the rise to more time spent indoors in close settings without face masks. 

In King and Snohomish counties, officials called it a concerning trend, pointing to higher infection rates and COVID-19 reproduction rates. 

“The trends we’re seeing today should be a wake up call for everyone,” said King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin. “The longer we wait, the more difficult it gets to change the trajectory of an increasing outbreak and if we let it get away from us now we may be in for a very dark time over the coming months.”

Asked if counties could be headed for the restrictive “stay home” order seen in spring, Duchin and others said people have the power to prevent that through better social distancing, mask usage and hand washing. 

“We absolutely have the ability to control this with our individual efforts so that’s what I would encourage everyone to do,” said Shawn Frederick from the Snohomish Health District. 

Snohomish County, which saw the first COVID-19 case in the country nearly nine months ago, is now seeing an increasing case rate per 100,000 people in the county. Officials said the numbers are getting closer to what’s considered “high COVID activity.”

Because of that, county health officer Dr. Chris Spitters has asked schools to put a pause on expanding in-person instruction. Frederick said schools do not need to move backwards and can continue to teach students with special needs or those in elementary school who have been brought back to school for now. The guidance is to keep from further in-person expansion. 

Another concern plaguing the county is how to continue to pay for needed pandemic relief response, from contact tracing staffing to quarantine sites. Executive Dave Somers said federal CARES Act dollars have helped the county with its response, which is costing around $750,000 per month, but said that federal relief is set to expire at the end of the year. 

“We do not have financial capacity at the county level to continue many of these programs that we’ve been doing this year, PPE purchases, grant programs for businesses and individuals, contact tracing, testing, quarantine and isolation site,” Somers said. “Those all really have been made possible with federal funding and without continued federal funding, a lot of those programs would either have to be significantly curtailed or even eliminated, so it’s of grave concern.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate will vote on a targeted coronavirus relief bill next week. Expectations on passing a bill are tempered as Congress has battled over additional stimulus packages for months, but local officials said relief is necessary to continue responding to a crisis they believe will affect communities well into 2021.