The recent surge in COVID cases in the Methow Valley has declined dramatically, with just one case in Twisp in the week ending July 5, compared to 27 in Twisp and six in Winthrop and Carlton the previous week.
Over all, new infections in Okanogan County are down steeply. There were just 19 this week, compared to 53 last week, according to Okanogan County Public Health.
The drop in cases puts the two-week infection rate per 100,000 population at 141. The rate is 253 per 100,000 for unvaccinated people and 10 for vaccinated people, Public Health said.
Public Health said the cases in June were connected with a church event on May 30, although they don’t name people or institutions from their case investigations, Okanogan County Health Officer James Wallace said.
At a service at the Cascade Bible Church in Twisp two weeks ago, Interim Pastor Dean Rushlow explained that the church had switched to online services to keep everyone safe after a number of people in the congregation had had flu-like symptoms and one had tested positive for COVID. Rushlow himself had had a cough and lost his sense of taste and smell, but had already recovered, he told the congregation.
Rushlow addressed the situation by email last week, in response to questions from the Methow Valley News.
“Some might ask, ‘Where is God amid this Pandemic?’” Rushlow said. “Additionally, I would ask other questions such as, ‘Is your faith in media platforms, claimed professionals, or particular claimed factoids? Are you fearful?’”
“Perhaps you want a response to the claims of the Health Department, who seemingly ‘have things figured out,’” Rushlow said. “To that I would question, ‘How and from what source are they deriving their statistics and data? Is there accountability for those derived statistics and data? Who oversees checking these to make sure their claims are accurate?”
Rushlow asked if they had looked into other events. “Did the Health Department check other resources, environments, and social gatherings during the first couple weeks of June?” he said.
Public Health reiterated that all the cases the department traced were connected with the church event. People who’d been at the event or who were in the potential chain of contact were advised to quarantine.
Quarantine and halting in-person gatherings are important tools for limiting an outbreak, keeping it from circulating in the community for an extended period, Wallace said.
Public health agencies have used contact tracing for decades to identify all individuals who may have been exposed to a contagious disease, including tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections, Public Health said.
After someone gets a positive test result, Public Health interviewers piece together that person’s activities, from grocery shopping to work to social gatherings, for the two weeks before infection. They also ask about any close contacts. The infected individual is asked to isolate.
Next, the interviewer reaches out to the contacts to let them know they may have been exposed. Contacts stay home to watch for symptoms for 14 days after exposure.
If a contact tests positive, the process starts over again as a confirmed case. If there were no contacts, the process stops.
Participation in contact tracing is voluntary.
County vaccination rates
The Methow Valley has among the highest COVID vaccination rates in Okanogan County, according to data from Okanogan County Public Health.
Brewster is at the top of the list, with 76% of the population vaccinated as of June 27. That number includes approximately 3,200 agricultural workers who are in the county on H-2A visas.
Winthrop is next, with 68% vaccinated, followed by Elmer City at 65%, Carlton and Mazama at 57%, and Twisp at 55%. The town of Methow is at the other end of the list, with 34% of the population vaccinated. Wauconda has the lowest vaccination rate in the county, at 31%.