It was a fitting end to 2020, as the Okanogan Coalition for Health Improvement (CHI) took stock of the state of COVID in the county — and looked at the steps the county needs to take to have a truly healthy new year.
“No one’s going to get you out of this mess. You’re going to get yourselves out of this mess. It’s going to be the community at large that says, ‘Hey, we got to stop this,’” Okanogan County Health Officer John McCarthy said on his final day, after 16 years in the job.
New COVID infections in Okanogan County over a two-week period have been hovering around 400 per 100,000 people since the fall, an incidence rate that makes health professionals nervous. “We’re on a general incline — we’re much worse than we were at the beginning of the school year. We were actually at the numbers the state wanted us to be for reopening schools for a period of time,” when the two-week incidence rate was below 75, McCarthy said.
Having that many infections puts the county in a precarious place, particularly since the cases are widely distributed throughout the county, said Jim Wallace, who took over from McCarthy as the county’s health officer on Jan. 1. “Any one spot could become the epicenter of a new explosion, and we have to be ready for it,” Wallace said.
Diligent efforts by public health workers to trace contacts of anyone who gets sick with COVID and ensure that those people isolate and quarantine has been key to keeping cases under control, Wallace said. But it’s equally possible for just a couple of cases to spark exponential growth in the disease if people aren’t careful, he said.
Okanogan County confirmed 88 new COVID cases in the week ending Jan. 3, six in the Methow Valley. Cases were distributed throughout the county, from Brewster to Malott to Oroville. The county has registered a total of 1,792 cases since the start of the pandemic, and has lost 32 people to the disease.
The county can take advantage of its small, tight-knit communities to keep the virus from spreading. Outreach from Okanogan County Public Health and a local fire chief helped persuade organizers to cancel a planned new year’s eve party that had been advertised on Facebook.