WENATCHEE — COVID-19 is hitting record numbers in Chelan and Douglas counties with local health officials calling it a ”disaster."
Data pulled from county health districts across the state show Chelan and Douglas counties to have the third highest COVID-19 rate in the state behind Spokane and Asotin counties. The percentage of tests coming back positive has also increased to 11%.
Health officials in mid-October touted as normal a consistent 1.7% positive case rate over a month and a half. In fact a 3% positive case rate in Leavenworth helped reveal an outbreak at a packing plant.
“It is right now a disaster,” Chelan-Douglas Health Officer Malcolm Butler said on in a Nov. 13 interview with KOHO radio. “On Monday (Nov. 9) we had the highest number of positive cases in Chelan and Douglas counties that we have ever had.”
This Saturday, Chelan County again broke records of COVID-19 positives with 68 in one day, according to Chelan-Douglas Health District data. North Central Washington — Chelan, Douglas, Grant and Okanogan counties — broke its record for single-day positives on Nov. 1 with 162.
Douglas County has not broken its July 20 single-day record of 38 positive cases.
In the last month, four people have died from COVID-19 with five more deaths under investigation, Butler said Monday during a Chelan-Douglas Board of Health meeting.
Health officials are looking at several possible causes for the increase in Chelan and Douglas counties, including Halloween, Butler said during his KOHO interview. Butler said he can’t prove it led to an increase, but it is a likely culprit.
“This is a perfect virus for taking advantage of our traditions,” he said. “We send kids out, they go house to house, gathered together, families spend time together watching their kids have fun. Boom, we are suddenly three times higher than we have been recently.”
The widespread infection of COVID-19 during a holiday, though, is a cause for concern with Thanksgiving looming, Butler said. The perfect place for transmission is when people are socializing in large groups and they let their guard down.
“Holy smokes, what is Thanksgiving and a four-day weekend going to do to us?” Butler asked during his KOHO interview. “So there is no safe way to share Thanksgiving dinner with people outside of your household or pod.”
Another possible cause of increased infections is people becoming lax about safety measures, Butler said during the board of health meeting. It appears that people have been seeing gyms reopen, kids go back to school and have come to the impression that it is safe to return to life as normal.
"Unfortunately imposing dramatic social limitations is kind of like ringing the a bell, sounding the alarm, and captures everybody's attention," Butler said.
The problem with major increases in COVID-19 positives is that the number of people hospitalized is on the rise, he said. Staff at Central Washington Hospital is starting to get stretched thin with 11 people hospitalized, up from eight. Two are being intubated.
The hospital is also facing a nursing staff shortage because of the demands of COVID-19, Butler said.
“So, I imagine that in most of your businesses where you work, you’ve got people who are out in quarantine or isolation,” he said. “And that of course is happening for nursing staff also. And so even though we may have available bed space, we may not have nursing staff.”