WENATCHEE — Chelan and Douglas counties were approved to move to Phase 1.5 of the state’s reopening plan on June 10. Just 16 new cases of the virus were reported that week, the lowest rate since weekly tracking began in April.
In the weeks since, COVID-19’s prevalence in North Central Washington has risen by every available measure.
Last week 168 people in the two counties tested positive for the virus, twice the count of the week before and 10 times what it was when reopening began.
But the trend isn’t just due to increased testing, the rate of positive results has also risen. For Confluence Health, which operates the hospital, that increase has been significant, Chief Medical Officer-elect Dr. Jason Lake said.
“More importantly than the number of tests we’re doing is the percentage of those tests we’re doing that are returning positive,” he said. “At the lull of COVID, we were getting about a 2% return rate on those tests and now we’ve hit 10% or more, even up to 15% or 16% percent positive on many of the days over the past three weeks or so. Obviously, that’s a concerning trend.”
The rate of positive results, widely considered a key indicator of the virus’ presence in a community, has gone up across the two counties, said Joyous Van Meter, epidemiologist for the Chelan-Douglas Health District.
“It’s everywhere, we’re seeing the rising cases in the smaller communities and Wenatchee and East Wenatchee, of course. And across different jobs and different ages, I think there’s just a lot out there and people need to be aware of that,” she said.
Grant County’s cases also ballooned following its move to Phase 2 of the reopening plan. It had 198 cases when it was approved on May 23 and was up to 755 on Thursday.
Thirty new cases were reported in Chelan County Thursday, its highest daily rate to date. Its seven highest daily counts have all been in July.
Just over 11.1% of the 1,508 tests conducted in Chelan and Douglas counties between June 29 and July 5 were positive, according to health district data. That rate is just shy of the record 11.3% in the third week of May. In mid-June the rate was 3.18%.
Some wide-scale testing has been conducted in the past few weeks. Columbia Fruit Packers tested 93 employees last Thursday and 16 positive results returned. Cashmere Care Center tested 151 staff and residents last Friday with seven positive results.
Confluence Health and other area hospitals have begun testing people before surgeries or some in-patient procedures, which has also increased the testing counts.
“But over the past few weeks, our pre-procedure and pre-surgical volume have remained pretty steady. It’s not like we’re doing a lot more surgeries today than we were two or three weeks ago,” Lake said.
The majority of cases are coming from people who are symptomatic or have been in contact with a person with the virus, the health officials said.
“We just have to assume that the increase in positives we’re finding in our testing represents an increased level of COVID in our communities,” Lake said. “More people are catching this virus now, we can all speculate why that is, but it does seem to correlate with us relaxing our restrictions on the community and people getting out and about. That, just by its nature, can result in more human-to-human interaction which can spread this virus if precautions aren’t taken.”
Correction: This story has been updated to correct that Chelan and Douglas counties moved to Phase 1.5 of the state’s reopening plan in June, not Phase 2.