‘This is good news for Eastern Washington’: Dept of Health says pandemic is slowing statewide

OLYMPIA, Wash – Months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the Washington Department of Health reported something different in a weekly briefing with journalists: good news.

Walking through statewide data, the Department of Health showed graphs that demonstrate a continued downward trend in new cases of COVID-19 statewide. Public health experts have been cautiously optimistic about those trends in recent weeks.

“We’re starting to feel more confident than this trend we’re seeing is real,” said Dr. Kathy Lofy, State Health Officer.

One especially positive point made by health officers Wednesday: the R number in eastern Washington is below one for the first time since the state has been tracking that data. The R number, or reproduction number, reflects the average number of people one infected person will likely infect with the virus. When the number is below one, it means the pandemic is slowing.

The DOH experts also say more people seem to be wearing masks, which could be contributing to the slowing spread.

While people under the age of 39 drove much of a wave of cases in mid-July, health experts are now seeing cases in those age groups flatten out, while cases are rising slightly in people 40 and over.

DOH graph shows changing case counts in certain age groups

Dr. Lofy was asked if a dip in testing statewide could be contributing to fewer cases. Lofy said while that’s possible, she believes it really is a reflection of less disease activity in the state.

Given the positive trends statewide, the DOH was asked if recommendations for remote learning were made prematurely.

“Even though we’re seeing good news with some of our graphs, our activity is still very high,” said Dr. Lofy. “You could see a flattening of your data, but if there is high activity, COVID-19 will be introduced into your schools.”

DOH also said countries that brought kids back to school successfully had a much lower incidence rate than Washington has right now.

RELATED COVERAGE: Spokane health officer says COVID-19 outbreaks in schools ‘very likely’ 

Still, Dr. Lofy expressed some optimism about in-person learning if the trends continue as they have.

“I’m optimistic we can have more kids in person in 2020,” said Lofy.

The health experts did warn, though, that COVID-19 activity is still “very high” in Washington and now is not the time to relax practices like wearing face coverings and social distancing.

“That’s always the concern,” said Washington Secretary of Health Dr. John Weisman. “It doesn’t take much for [cases] to go back up.”

You can access the full data Washington is using to track cases of COVID-19. Here’s a link to the dashboard. 

Spokane Regional Health updates county data once a day on the weekdays, after 3 pm. You can see that information here.