Hospitalizations remain high
New COVID cases in Okanogan County have flattened to pre-Thanksgiving levels and declined in other parts of the state, but that still isn’t enough to reverse “skyrocketing trends” from early November, the state Department of Health (DOH) said.
While there have been substantial decreases in COVID transmission across the state, hospitalizations are still higher than in the fall, particularly in eastern Washington. And what’s called the reproductive number — which represents how many people each individual with COVID is expected to infect — is still more than one, meaning the disease will spread, not decline, DOH said.
In the week ending Dec. 27, 93 more people in Okanogan County were confirmed to have COVID-19, including three in Winthrop and one in Twisp. One more person died, bringing the county’s total deaths to 32. The county’s two-week infection rate per 100,000 people is now 386, down from 435 a week ago. Most cases were in Tonasket, followed by Omak, Okanogan and Oroville.
Although the number of people at Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee with COVID has dropped, there are still 28 people being treated there for the disease, including seven on ventilators.
DOH attributes the drop in cases and visits to health care providers over Thanksgiving to changes in behavior rather than actual drops in prevalence, since both cases and hospitalizations rebounded after the holiday to what they’d been before Thanksgiving.
The estimated overall percentage of Washington residents with active COVID-19 infection is still higher than at the previous peak in late March, DOH said.
Washington state is providing some relief to people who’ve been hit by the economic catastrophe of the pandemic. The state will pay $550 in one-time unemployment benefits so that workers who’ve been receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) won’t miss a week, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Sunday (Dec. 27).
The commitment closes the gap in payments for 94,555 people that was created when Pres. Donald Trump initially refused to sign the federal coronavirus relief package. Now that Trump has signed the bill, PUA benefits have been extended through March 14.
PUA provides benefits for people not eligible for traditional unemployment, such as independent contractors and self-employed workers.
The state is providing $54 million to cover the one-time benefit, Inslee said. The money comes from the federal CARES Act, which expires at the end of December, according to the state Employment Security Department (ESD).
People who receive Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation can apply for an extension when their benefits end, ESD said.
In addition, people will be protected from eviction through March 31, Inslee announced. The current moratorium was set to expire on Dec. 31.