Officials warn of COVID-19 acceleration ahead of holidays

Health officials in Washington on Tuesday warned of a continued spike in coronavirus cases across the state, and pleaded with the public to take the pandemic more seriously, wear facial coverings and limit their social interactions so additional restrictions don’t need to be imposed heading into the holidays.

State health officer Kathy Lofy, joined by state and county health officials, said cases have been steadily increasing since September, but the most dramatic increases have occurred over the past two weeks. She said cases are rising among all age groups, indicating that transmission is widespread.

“At this point in time, we’ve had the highest number of cases that we’ve ever had and our case counts are accelerating,” she said.

Lofy said that she was particularly concerned about a potential surge in hospitalizations that would put a strain on hospitals. She said if the current trajectory of cases does not change, “we’ll need to take actions that will hurt our economy, and no one wants to do that again.”

The U.S. has surpassed 1 million new confirmed #coronavirus cases in just the first 10 days of November, and Washington is among states that have seen record number of cases in recent days. The state set a daily record for new coronavirus cases on Saturday, with 1,777 new cases announced. As of Tuesday, more than 120,000 cases have been confirmed statewide and there have been 2,482 deaths.

Newly confirmed infections in the U.S. are running at all-time highs of well over 100,000 per day, pushing the running total to more than 10 million and eclipsing 1 million since Halloween.

“COVID-19 is a viral wildfire and we are the fuel,” said Dr. Jeff Durchin, the public health officer for Seattle and King County.

For most, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks, although long-term effects are unknown. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Lofy and other officials said they know that people are experiencing fatigue from the ongoing pandemic, but stressed that upcoming holidays like Thanksgiving could further accelerate the spread of the virus and said people should only celebrate with those in their immediate households. She urged people to stop socializing over the next several weeks, but if that was not possible, to limit socialization to no more than five people outside of one’s household per week.

Lofy and Secretary of Health John Wiesman both said that nothing is off the table if it is ultimately determined that a change in social behavior does not flatten the curve of virus spread. David Postman, chief of staff for Gov. Jay Inslee, said that the focus right now is on getting people to recalibrate their behavior, and he said that at this point there are no specific plans for any additional restrictions on businesses or gathering sizes, but warned that could change.

“If people don’t take it seriously and people still push back on masks and social distancing and crowd size and parties in your house and frat parties and everything else, then we’re going to have to go and try to find something else to do,” he said. “And that comes at a cost, it comes at a cost greater than just the economy.”

Dr. Anthony Chen, the director of health at the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, warned that public health “is the only thing standing between us and disaster.”

“We have to put politics aside, put personalities aside, we’ve got to work on this together,” he said.