LATEST ON COVID-19: September an important time period for health district

(BRANDON HANSEN/Chewelah Independent)

TRENDS ARE POSITIVE: Case trends in September are important for NE Washington heading into fall season…

The current trends of the COVID-19 virus continued to go down in NE Washington, as health officials evoked cautious optimism heading into the second half of September.

The current case rate for the COVID-19 virus has dropped to 16 cases per 100K in Stevens County, 23 per 100K in Pend Oreille County and 51 per 100K in Ferry County. While this should be welcoming news, NE Tri-County Health Officer Sam Artzis highlighted that testing numbers are still too low.

Ferry County is averaging just three tests a day, while Pend Oreille County is carrying out 12 tests per day and Stevens County is conducting 29 tests a day.

“There are people not wanting to get tested,” Artzis said. “People are not answering phone calls for being close contacts in contact tracing.”

Virus reproduction in the state of Washington is slightly up to 1.05 per COVID-19 case, meaning for every virus case, 1.05 other people are infected. According to the COVID-19 Tracking Project, which contacts the state and territorial health districts directly, there have been 79,826 confirmed cases in Washington since the start of the pandemic. Currently, 247 people are hospitalized in the state because of the virus.

The United States as a whole has seen over 186,000 deaths and 6.5 million cases of COVID-19. There are 29,795 people currently hospitalized because of the virus.

“For me to feel good about the current trends, we would have to see less cases but increased testing,” Arztis said.

Arztis said that the hospital system in Eastern Washington is still seeing the strain from the virus. While there are rooms and equipment, staffing is becoming the issue as hospitals are having issues keeping enough staffing up during these times.

NE Tri-County Health District will continue to monitor case numbers closely with a feeling of caution because of a possible Labor Day bump in cases and the eventual reopening of schools. NETCHD Administrator Matt Schanz said for the third week in a media briefing they will need to see three virus incubation cycles, or 42 days of a county under 25 cases per 100K.

“For schools to reopen, we need to see sustainable numbers,” Schanz said, adding they are meeting with school superintendents weekly. “We don’t want to change our recommendations from one weekend to the next.”

So while Stevens County has been under the case thresh hold, they will need to keep the numbers low through September for a possible in-person learning model. The health district told the media that if COVID-19 patients get symptoms, they tend to see them 7.7 days within a incubation cycle. Meaning they could get tested negative before this, before showing symptoms and shedding viruses.

The wildfires don’t help things as people have been evacuating and being forced to gather in areas to shelter from this historic blazes.

“The smoke also makes co-morbid conditions like heart or breathing issues worse, throw COVID-19 in there and it can be a double-whammy for people,” Artzis said while adding it has been heartening to see firefighters take the virus seriously and employ several measures in camps to stop the spread of the virus.

For the general populace the recommendations remain the same: social distance, use a mask and self-quarantine if you have symptoms. Artzis said that they are hoping for better and faster testing to help. Any hope for Washington to reopen more, however, is on hold as the phased re-opening was paused by the governor weeks ago.
To fully encompass the virus’ effects on humanity in this newspaper article would be impossible, but economic data shows that job growth is slowing and a hope of a V-shaped recover is currently not occurring. A vaccine is coming, but surveys of Americans show they would be catious of using it due to the fast-tracked nature of the vaccine and a general mistrust in vaccines as a whole.

Locally COVID-19 aid for area businesses continues to be held up due to the issue with the Stevens County Commissioners and the homelessness funds.
Some European countries are seeing case spikes and are bracing for a second wave, while the United States is still dealing with the first wave of the virus.
The current seven day average for deaths in the United States is 781, while the country is seeing about 37,000 new cases of the virus each day.

The NE Washington tri-county area has seen just 15 new cases in the last two cases, nine of those coming in Stevens County, two in Pend Oreille and four in Ferry.

The Colville area has seen the most cases with 30 and nearby Kettle Falls seeing 20 cases since the pandemic began. Nine Mile Falls has seen 26 cases.

Chewelah has seen a low number of cases with just four since the pandemic began. Valley has seen three. Hunters and Gifford have seen one case.