With good news, has come bad news, and it was all predicted by experts.
After weeks of a daily onslaught of new COVID-19 cases in the Inland Northwest, new case numbers – while still worrying – are plateauing.
But hospitalization are up. And so are deaths.
Thirteen Spokane County residents have died from COVID-19 since Monday.
Hospitalizations from the coronavirus in Spokane County has increased by 11 people since Monday.
There are 83 patients receiving treatment for COVID-19 in local hospitals, and 45 of them are Spokane County residents. That’s the highest number hospitalizations from the coronavirus so far, and twice as many as there were a month ago.
The Spokane Regional Health District has recorded 32 deaths due to the virus in just the last two weeks, the fastest pace of deaths since the pandemic began.
Health officials predicted this rise in hospitalizations and ultimately deaths, when case counts began to grow exponentially at the start of summer. The virus initially spread in younger age groups, like 20 and 30-year-olds. Now that trend is reversing and expanding.
The latest report from the Institute for Disease Modeling shows that while cases among people younger than 40 are on the decline, cases in older generations are on the rise, including in Spokane County.
While new cases confirmed daily in Spokane County appears to be flattening, those trends hide the increasing number of cases in older age groups, the report says.
“In King and Spokane (counties), overall flat trends hide increases in the oldest age groups while hospitalizations rise,” the IDM report says.
Modelers project hospitalizations to continue to increase in age groups of people over the age of 40, as case counts increase in those age groups. This is largely due to people in these age groups being higher-risk individuals, with the potential for underlying health conditions or facing more severe illness with COVID-19. In Spokane County, older residents are hospitalized more frequently than younger residents, and older residents are also the majority of deaths in the county. So far 74% of the 79 residents who have died in Spokane County are over the age of 70.
State health officials expressed concerns over the shift in statewide cases from younger people to older people.
“I’m very concerned to see these increases in older age groups, as we predicted. This was likely following the recent spike among younger people,” Secretary of Health John Wiesman said in a news release.
Local hospitals are treating patients from various counties all over the Inland Northwest with COVID-19, but they still report having capacity to treat both COVID and non-COVID patients.
“In the last few weeks as local cases have continued to rise, we have cared for more patients with COVID-19 than ever before both at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Holy Family Hospital. While this does impact our critical care units and staffing needs, we do have capacity to care for more patients both with COVID and without,” a statement from Providence Health Care says.
“The continued rise in cases should be a strong reminder to our community that we need to take this virus seriously. We’re asking everyone to do their part by wearing masks, practicing social distancing and avoiding gatherings so our community’s health care system does not become overwhelmed.”
The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 53 new cases on Friday, for a total of 4,350 total cases in the county.
The Panhandle Health District confirmed 41 new cases on Friday, for a total of 2,059 in the five-county region. There are 35 North Idaho residents hospitalized with the virus, and 17 residents have died.
While cases and hospitalizations in older age groups continue to increase, modelers did report that masking mandates have had some impact on the rate of transmission in Eastern Washington. For the first time in several weeks, they estimate that the reproductive number of the virus in Eastern Washington as a whole is below 1, marking a significant decline in virus activity in previous hot spots like Yakima and the Tri-Cities. A reproductive number under 1 means that on average, people infected with COVID-19 are spreading the disease to fewer than 1 other person.
Counties received large shipments of cloth face coverings from the state to be distributed to Washington residents who are within 200% of the federal poverty level. To distribute these face coverings, Spokane County Emergency Management gave masks to 76 agencies and offered them to dozens more. As of last week, Spokane County Emergency Management had received 323,480 masks and expects to receive another shipment of 100,000 masks in the future. Several large service providers like CHAS, SNAP, Second Harvest, Salvation Army, Lutheran Community Services and Frontier Behavioral Health received these face coverings.
Some organizations are able to distribute them to their clients through current efforts, while others are planning to make the masks available to Spokane County residents when they open for more in-person services.
Lutheran Community Services plans to begin a phased approach to face-to-face services on site and at various community locations, where they will issue the supplies to providers and clients that do not already have them.
Frontier Behavioral Health has similar plans, and when in-person services return , masks will be delivered to staff and clients who need them.
At Second Harvest, staff and volunteers have been distributing the face coverings at their Mobile Market program as well as to their agency partners in the community.
“We’ve been distributing them directly to our agency partners, which is how we do most of our food distribution,” Drew Meuer, chief of staff at Second Harvest, said.
He said the cloth reusable face coverings are a nice alternative to offer people instead of disposable masks that can’t be reused.
Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.
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