Report: COVID-19 spread increasing in Eastern Washington
Even excluding hot sport Yakima County, virus still on upswing as counties reopen
Last updated 5/28/2020 at 9:25am
CAMP MURRAY, WASH. – A report released late Tuesday evening, May 26, indicates that transmission of the coronavirus and the disease it carries, COVID-19, is trending upwards in counties east of the Cascade Mountains.
The report also indicates trends in the spread of the disease are slowing in Western Washington. The report findings are based on what is referred to as “the effective reproductive number,” a measure of how many new infections derive from a single case of COVID-19. A reproductive number below one means the number of new cases is declining while a number above one indicates an increase in new cases.
The report is based on data collected between May 3-12 by the Washington State Disease Reporting System. The report stated it is likely the effective reproductive number in Western Washington on May 7 was between 0.09 and 1.05, with “best estimate” at 0.57.
In Eastern Washington, on the other hand, the effective reproductive number on May 3 was likely between 1.12 and 1.52, with the best estimate around 1.32.
Health officials have said that to continue to slow the spread of the virus, the effective reproductive number must be well below one. A number of one or higher means the virus is maintaining spread or increasing.
This comes as a total of 24 of Washington’s 39 counties have been cleared by Gov. Jay Inslee’s office to move to Phase 2 of the “Safe Start Washington” plan to return to more normal economic and social activity. Of those counties, 13 are in Eastern Washington: Adams, Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Grant, Kittitas, Lincoln, Pend Orielle, Spokane, Stevens, Walla Walla and Whitman.
Kittitas and Walla Walla, along with Thurston in Western Washington, were added to that list today, May 27. Kittitas was previously eligible to apply for the Phase 2 variance, along with others including Spokane County, last week, but was on pause due to an investigation of an outbreak.
Since receiving approval for its variance to move to Phase 2, Spokane County has seen an increase in cases, including three straight days of double-digit figures for new infections. Part of this stemmed from an outbreak at the Philadelphia Macaroni Company that has resulted in the infection of 35 of its 72 employees.
The Spokane Regional Health District estimates that more than a dozen family members of employees at the company have contracted the virus from a relative working at the facility. Additionally, a company employee who tested positive for the virus was arrested twice this past week on charges of driving under the influence, possibly exposing members of the Spokane Police Department and Spokane County Jail, leading to the quarantine of six police officers and one jail inmate. News reports said the employee was arrested on May 25 with five other individuals in the vehicle he was operating.
Health District officials have claimed the Philadelphia Macaroni Company outbreak is contained and do not fear community spread.
Additional information from the report indicates that if the Eastern Washington virus hot spot of Yakima County were excluded, the effective reproductive number would still be above one in that part of the state. Yakima, Douglas and Chelan counties had the highest number of cases relative to their populations.
The geographical differences seen in the report likely have multiple causes, including differences in testing. It’s also likely there are differences in infection rates due to behavioral and socioeconomic factors that affect COVID-19 exposure risk.
“As we continue to see differences from county to county, our efforts to support different regional needs for reopening become increasingly critical — and so does our request that people avoid traveling outside county lines to areas with fewer cases,” Secretary of Health John Wiesman said in the May 26 news release. “I’m asking everyone to continue their hard work to protect others in our community and our state by following public health guidance.”
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.