December now deadliest month of pandemic, but Washington so far bucking trend

In just three weeks, December outpaced any other month as the deadliest of the pandemic in the U.S. But Washington state has so far bucked the trend, with death rates high but fairly flat.

More than 57,000 people in the U.S. died from COVID-19 as of December 23, according to The COVID Tracking Project. The increase is driven by spikes in cases around the country, like California, which just surpassed 2 million cases. 

Deaths in Washington continue to average double digits every day this month, but the state is not seeing the massive increases happening nationwide. 

"We’re hoping if everyone stays home for the holidays, if everyone’s wearing a mask, if everyone social distances and does this, that we can even drive this rate lower, the incident rates of disease and also the rate of death," said Dr. Scott Lindquist, a state epidemiologist specializing in communicable diseases. 

Most health officials in the state deduced there was no Thanksgiving surge, helped in large part by state restrictions implemented before the holiday and the decisions by many to keep gatherings to the household.

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Kristine Gray from Federal Way, her fiancé John and their four kids held a virtual Thanksgiving with loved ones over Zoom and plan to do the same for Christmas.

"I know it sucks, it’s terrible, it’s horrible, but the sooner we do what needs to be done the sooner we can go back to normal," Gray said. 

Over Thanksgiving, Gray had a family Zoom with her mom and her mom’s boyfriend in Florida. Gray’s mom is battling cancer. 

Both sides had choked back tears over not being able to spend Thanksgiving together. For Christmas, it’ll be more Zooms with more family members. Gray is pondering a morning Zoom with her mom so she can watch the grandkids open presents. 

Part of Gray’s motivation for a household-only Christmas is a strong desire to protect loved ones, like her mom, from the pandemic.

"I couldn’t live with knowing that I got someone deathly ill and maybe die, so I think that’s a huge driving force for me," she said. 

The other reason is to protect herself. Gray has an autoimmune disorder. 

"I want to see my kids grow up," Gray said. "I’m very high risk - and we have a high risk child in the house - I want to be around for that and I’ve been told I may not be if I get this it could be so severe."

Right now, the nation’s COVID-19 death rate is roughly two times what it is in Washington. For Gray, the state’s results are all the more reason for a season of staying home for the holidays.

"We could be wiping this out if everybody did this, if everybody did their part," she said.

Her holiday wish is to be surrounded by family and friends — next Christmas.