COVID cases in Okanogan County continue to multiply, with 655 confirmed cases as of Monday (July 27) and two more deaths connected with the disease.
The majority of those cases – 421, or 64% – were added in the previous two weeks, according to Okanogan County Public Health. The steep rise in new infections amounted to 985 cases per 100,000.
The growing number of cases is part of anticipated community spread after people relaxed and stopped following guidelines once the county advanced to Phase II on June 5, Okanogan County Community Health Director Lauri Jones said this week. People had large gatherings over Father’s Day and July 4, and many are not complying with directives on face coverings, she said. Whenever you bring people back into a setting, you typically see community spread, Jones said.
Re-opening of restaurants and places of worship – even with restricted occupancy – has also meant more gatherings and therefore increased risk, Jones said.
“People think it’s a free-for-all,” said Jones, who said she sees little difference in many people’s behavior compared with the days before COVID. She acknowledged that people are tired of the messages and the restrictions on their movements and activities. Unfortunately, for some people, “till it affects you personally, it doesn’t mean much,” Jones said.
Brewster has experienced the greatest toll from the disease, with 416 of all cases reported since March. There have been 83 in Omak, five in Winthrop, one in Twisp, and four in Carlton.
Most cases have been in the 20 to 39 age group, followed by people aged 40 to 59. Cases in young adults have been spreading to older populations across the state, according to the Washington Department of Health (DOH).
Most businesses in the county with more than a few employees, including Walmart and the 12 Tribes Resort Casino, have had cases among their staff.
Increased testing capacity has helped the county get a better sense of the infections here. In four days of free, drive-through testing conducted by Three Rivers Hospital, Confluence Health and Family Health Centers in Brewster two weeks ago, they tested more than 240 people, Jones said. The proportion of positive tests statewide remains high, indicating that COVID is spreading widely and that high case counts are not just a function of increased testing, according to DOH.
The reproductive number (the estimated number of people each COVID-19 patient will infect) is more than one across the state, meaning new infections will continue to increase, DOH said. The goal is a reproductive number well below one, which would mean the number of people getting COVID-19 is declining, DOH said.
Public health professionals continue to see a wide variation in the seriousness of the disease. Some get no symptoms and some struggle and get the “full wrath of COVID,” Jones said. “There’s no rhyme or reason.”
The two additional people whose deaths are considered “COVID-related” were residents at Regency Harmony House Rehabilitation & Nursing Center in Brewster, Jones said.
The outbreak at Harmony House, which affected about 24 residents and 14 staff members, is now pretty well contained, Jones said. All the county’s long-term-care facilities have done an excellent job, locking down early in the pandemic and screening staff and disinfecting the premises, Jones said.
There haven’t been any cases in other long-term-care facilities in the county.
“It all goes back to following guidelines – if you don’t have to travel, don’t do it. You don’t know what you’ll bring back or be exposed to,” Jones said. “People are forgetting simple things from early on. If we’re going to stop this or slow this down, it’s going to take everyone.”
Current case counts and other information are available at https://www.okanogancountycovid19.org.