Latest COVID spike may have peaked in July, data shows

New numbers are a positive step forward, but some metrics are headed in the wrong direction.

EVERETT — The latest spike in COVID-19 cases may have peaked in July, data shows.

In a two-week period ending Aug. 1, the Snohomish Health District reported about 100 COVID-19 infections per 100,000 residents — the benchmark to enter Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start plan is 25.

The latest 14-day cycle, which ended Saturday, showed 87.

Statewide data mirrors those results.

“We’re starting to feel more confident that the trend you’re seeing is real,” state Health Officer Kathy Lofy told reporters Wednesday.

Health experts attributed the dip to more people wearing masks and social distancing.

That’s good news, but it’s far too early to celebrate, they said.

State Secretary of Health John Wiesman is worried the positive trends could lead to people letting their guards down, he said.

After all, the resurgence in cases, at least locally, was largely fueled by young people going to gatherings or parties without wearing masks, as counties advanced through Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start plan.

“Let’s be honest, as we moved counties into other phases … many folks sort of acted as if they weren’t in Phase Two, but they were in Phase Four,” he told reporters Wednesday. “They really took this as the freedom to relax standards.”

Not all COVID-19 metrics, both locally and statewide, are trending in the right direction.

In Snohomish County, infections in older people and hospitalizations are slowly rising, Dr. Chris Spitters, the county’s top health officer, said.

That follows the statewide trend of cases shifting from younger people to those who are more likely to experience severe complications or death from the virus.

If left unchecked, that could lead to a wave of hospitalizations, Lofy said.

Throughout Western Washington, the virus’ reproductive rate is still above 1, data shows. That means, on average, every person who tests positive for the virus infects at least one other person.

“The epidemic is still growing,” Lofy said. “We really want people to understand these numbers as we do and know that we’re not out of the woods, yet.”

Meanwhile, backlogs at labs that process tests continue to cause delays in results. That has led some clinics and hospitals to stop testing many asymptomatic patients, who could still spread the virus, if infected.

In turn, testing in the county dipped by more than 1,000 from mid-July to Aug. 1.

“What we’re potentially not detecting (in case counts) are some asymptomatic cases, but again the targeted asymptomatic testing, looking at folks who are more likely to be infected — close contacts (who are) part of an outbreak — that should still be occurring,” Spitters said during a briefing Tuesday. “And so we shouldn’t be missing too many of those.”

Spitters added that he’s “cautiously optimistic about where things are going.” Masks and social distancing are working, he said.

But those safety guidelines will likely need to be in place through the winter, Wiesman said.

“A lot of this is in the hands of all of us,” he said. “It’s not a part time job, it’s a full time job. You have to do this day in and day out.”

Joey Thompson: 425-339-3449; Twitter: @byjoeythompson.

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