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Posted on: June 19, 2020

Phase 2 in Whatcom County: Evaluating Our Progress

Whatcom County is regularly evaluating how COVID-19 is being spread through our community and our progress in responding to it. Right now we are in Phase 2 of Washington’s Safe Start plan and are working hard to be able to move to Phase 3. The metrics we must meet to move to Phase 3 can be found on the Safe Start website, and include targets related to:

  • Disease activity
  • Outbreaks
  • Testing
  • Contact tracing
  • Healthcare system readiness

Information about our county’s case numbers can be found on our Data Dashboard, and you can get info on key metrics can be found on the Washington State COVID-19 Risk Assessment Dashboard. Both of these dashboards are updated daily with the latest information.

Disease Activity

In order to move to Phase 3, Whatcom County may have no more than 25 cases per 100,000 residents averaged over the last 14 days, That amounts to no more than four cases per day. Over the past several days, we have been exceeding that number. 

grapch COVID-19 Average cases per day as of June 13, 2020

A large number of our new cases are related to recent outbreaks connected to social gatherings and workplaces. 

We are seeing an increase in confirmed cases in younger populations, likely due to social gatherings, and an increase in the rate of cases in northern Whatcom County. In April, 27% of confirmed cases were in residents under 30 years old. So far in the first 17 days of June, 74% of confirmed cases are in residents under 30 years old.

pie graph of case demographics

Confirmed Cases by Percent in Age Category, by Month up to June 17

graph of Whatcom COVID-19 cases by School District The graph above shows confirmed COVID-19 cases by school district for the month of May and the first 14 days of June.

Outbreaks

Whatcom County may have no more than one active outbreak in order to move to Phase 3. We have seen a shift from outbreaks at long term care facilities, to more outbreaks connected to business and social settings. We are actively responding to each outbreak, and are seeing that in some cases, outbreaks related to social gatherings are leading to outbreaks in workplaces.  Our case investigators and contact tracers are working to limit further spread of COVID-19 that may be related to these cases.

An outbreak is two or more cases of COVID-19 among individuals who were exposed to the virus from the same source, such as at a workplace. Additionally, one confirmed case in a long term care facility (nursing home or assisted living facility) is considered a COVID-19 outbreak. At this time, we don’t share further details regarding outbreaks, because these events do not pose a greater public health risk to the community than other gatherings that may also be happening.  

Testing 

For a while, testing was a challenge in our county and everywhere due to a lack of testing kits. However, our community is now prepared with enough testing supplies, personal protective equipment (PPE), and lab capacity to test anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19. 

Our testing goals to move to Phase 3 include the average number of tests performed per day during the past week to be 50 times the number of cases. This means that no more than 2% of our tests should be positive, showing that we have enough testing capacity in our county. Right now according to the COVID-19 risk assessment dashboard, we have a positive test rate of 2.4% over the past week. In order to move to Phase 3, we must increase the number of negative tests that are performed. If you have any COVID-19 symptoms, please contact your healthcare provider to ask about getting tested.

Contact Tracing

Contact tracing is an important tool that helps us “box in” the virus. In order to move to Phase 3, we must contact 90% of individuals with newly confirmed cases within 24 hours of receiving lab reports. We must also contact 80% of close contacts of someone with a confirmed case after receiving lab reports. 

Last week, our staff were able to follow up within 24 hours to 97% of new cases. However, we were only able to follow up within 48 hours to 48% of close contacts of people with a confirmed case. Over the past three weeks we have identified at least 200 contacts through case interviews that require follow-up. 

A new Volunteer Coordinator has started, and their job includes training new case contact investigators. Over the past week, we have trained 4 new contact investigators that will begin their work today. We have 8 additional volunteers that have begun training and will begin case contact investigations over the next few days.

Healthcare system readiness

We need to ensure that our healthcare system is prepared to meet the current needs of people who have COVID-19, as well as future needs. Our goal to move to Phase 3 is to have fewer than 80% of licensed beds occupied by patients, and fewer than 10% of licensed beds occupied by suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients. We are well under those numbers according to the COVID-19 risk assessment dashboard, indicating that we are prepared for this challenge.

What this means for us

While we are meeting some of our goals, we must reduce the number of confirmed cases and outbreaks we are seeing in our county. We must also increase our case investigation and contact tracing ability. We are working hard to get more case investigators trained so we can meet that target, but the rest is up to all of us. In order to decrease our case numbers, we all need to do our part, which includes

  • Only gather with five or fewer people that don’t live with you per week.
  • Wearing a mask.
  • Maintain physical distance from others.
  • Wash our hands.
  • Stay home when we’re feeling sick. 
  • Get tested if you have even mild symptoms.

We know it’s been a long haul and this is not how we imagined we’d be spending our spring and summer, but if we can keep up all the good work we’ve been doing, we’ll get to Phase 3 sooner, and be able to safely enjoy more activities with our families and friends.

 

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