Okanogan County has lost three more people to COVID-19, all under the age of 70, Community Health Director Lauri Jones said at the county’s Board of Health meeting on Tuesday (Sept. 15).
One of the people lost was a man from Brewster well known for coaching many children and adults. “It’s tragic,” Jones said.
The deaths are considered COVID-related, since all three had some underlying conditions, Jones said.
The overall rate of new COVID infections in the county has slowed dramatically, with just 14 cases reported in the past 14 days. The incidence rate per 100,000 population over two weeks is 44.5, down from a high of more than 1,000 in late July. The cumulative case count in the county is 1,029.
“We’ve done a remarkable job in bringing the numbers down,” Okanogan County Health Officer John McCarthy said. But McCarthy warned against relaxing too much, pointing to Whitman County, which went from one of the lowest rates to a surge in new cases connected with Washington State University.
Public health officials are concerned by new infections since the Labor Day weekend among people who’ve traveled, Jones said.
Public Health has also been working with fire crews to test anyone who develops symptoms and to monitor any close contacts, Jones said. One firefighter who lost her sense of taste and smell was sent home even though her test was negative, and Public Health is monitoring her fellow crew members. Fire crews have been maintaining small cohorts this year to protect against the spread of the virus.
Jones and McCarthy have been talking regularly with school superintendents across the county to evaluate infection rates and determine if and when it would be safe for students to attend school in person. Other than for special-needs students, only the Methow Valley School District has students on campus thus far.
Guidelines for in-person attendance at school — even if just two days a week — is for an incidence rate of 75 cases per 100,000. The county will need to maintain its low rate for another 10 days to meet that target, said Christal Eshelman, a regional assessment coordinator with the Chelan-Douglas Health District who assists Okanogan County with data.
Parents and staff across the state have raised major apprehensions about all aspects of school re-opening. Some are convinced there’s too much testing, and some that there’s not enough. Others question the validity of tests, McCarthy said.