It’s an analogy that’s unfortunately all too real for many in this community.
“COVID-19 is a viral wildfire, and we are the fuel,” said Jeff Duchin, health officer for Seattle–King County Public Health at a state Department of Health (DOH) news conference on Tuesday (Nov. 10).
The message from a dozen state and county health officials was clear — the recent alarming rise in COVID-19 infections threatens the state’s health-care system and, if not checked, could mean widespread restrictions that would affect the larger economy.
Starting in September, cases have been increasing across the state and in all age groups, indicating widespread transmission, state Health Officer Kathy Lofy said. The cases we see today are a direct result of people’s activities a few weeks ago.
One after another, health officials stressed the urgent need for people to be vigilant about precautions and to restrict their activities to reverse the steep uptick in cases before COVID overwhelms the health care system.
The health experts made their case to the public to turn things around before it’s too late. They warned that all means of controlling the spread of the disease are possible, whether that involves imposing new restrictions on businesses or even a stay-at-home order. Such drastic steps won’t be necessary if people take steps on their own. “This is all in our control. We have to double-down and change our behaviors,” Lofy said.
The state moved from economic restrictions to personal responsibility during the summer and fall, and state officials are hopeful that increased diligence in mask wearing, physical distancing, and limited interactions with others will make a difference, said David Postman, chief of staff for Gov. Jay Inslee.
Although scientists know how to stop COVID infections and have learned better ways of taking care of people who become sick, people — including children — are still ending up in intensive care and dying from this disease, said John Lynch, a medical director with Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. “These are preventable infections,” he said.
There was widespread acknowledgement of the emotional toll that COVID restrictions have taken. While we may be done with COVID, COVID isn’t done with us, said Kira Mauseth of DOH’s Behavioral Health Strike Team.
Although everyone has already made numerous sacrifices, we can’t give up now, they said. Ideally, people should stop socializing for the next couple of weeks or restrict their interactions to brief gatherings with a maximum of five people outside their household.
Despite the deep concerns about an impending crisis, all the health professionals emphasized that there is still time to alter the course through a concerted effort by the public. Promising results from the Pfizer vaccine trial released this week offer hope that a vaccine could be available in coming months.
“Our common challenge with the coronavirus is we must all work together,” said Anthony L-T Chen, director of health for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. Everyone has the power to avoid more onerous restrictions, they said.
“Public health is the only thing standing between us and disaster,” Chen said.
COVID cases in Okanogan County have been rising, although less steeply than in other parts of the state. But the county isn’t doing enough testing to catch all cases, Community Health Director Lauri Jones said at the county’s Board of Health meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 10).
The county recorded 10 new cases in the past week as of Nov. 9, including one in Twisp, bringing the cumulative total to 1,188. The county has been able to trace a lot of cases to travel outside the county, Jones said.
“We’re all getting COVID-weary, but we’re all responsible for our community. Our actions do affect others in our community,” she said. “It’s not going away any time soon, so we’ve got to hunker down.”
The free community testing that starts this week will help provide important data to guide the county’s disease-control efforts, Jones said.
Health officer resignation
Okanogan County is looking for a new health officer, following the recent announcement by John McCarthy that he’ll be leaving after 16 years in the post. McCarthy said he’s leaving because he doesn’t have enough time to do the job adequately.
Several qualified individuals have already expressed interest, Jones said. The county has set up an interview committee to review candidates for the position.