The Health Department held a briefing this morning on the latest coronavirus news and shared a lot of wonky details but it all pretty much boils down to: Things are bad; it’s going to get worse; and it’s going to be like this for a long time. As of today, King County’s closing in on 12,000 confirmed cases and just over 600 deaths, with a disproportionate impact on communities of color. We’re seeing around 132 new cases per day right now, compared to 40 per day a month ago.
“The disease is as severe as ever, and the risk isn’t going away in the foreseeable future,” says Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin. “We need to accept … long term behavior change and restructuring how we go about our lives.”
Most of the recent increase has been among people in their 20s and 30s, with a particular hotspot among the University of Washington’s frats and sororities, which have seen 131 cases. Younger folks aren’t hospitalized or killed as much as older folks, but of course they’re still contagious and can pass the virus along to others. And on top of that, we don’t know anything about the long-term effects of the virus, and have seen in rare cases that people have reported respiratory and nerve issues after recovering.
Some good news is that the recent protests don’t seem to have contributed to the spread. Seattle has tested 4,000 people who reported participating in the BLM protests, Duchin says, and “we don’t have a lot of evidence to link the current surge to those protests or any particular large gatherings.”
The positivity rate for those 4,000 people is under one half of one percent, much lower than is seen in other groups, such as the UW kids.
The Health Department also has not seen outbreaks attributable to bars. Instead, the rise seems to be linked to “socializing in the community in general, both in commercial and private settings,” as well as among essential workers.
Ultimately, the best guidance right now is the same as the guidance we’ve been getting since March: Stop hanging out with people in person for long periods in unventilated spaces; shut the fuck up and put on your mask; wash your hands; get tested as soon as you experience symptoms; quarantine as much as you can. Nothing’s changed.
Making matters worse, infections are expected to get worse in the fall and winter. The “first wave” of infections still isn’t over, but the change in weather this fall will likely drive people indoors into nice humid rooms where the virus will say "oh, that's nice."
On top of that, premature re-opening of businesses and schools (and forcing people back to work by ending government assistance and resuming evictions) may put more infectious people in contact with each other.
“We need to fundamentally change how we interact with each other,” Duchin says. “The virus is going to be out there waiting.”