Loosen, test, loosen — How Seattle can emerge from COVID-19 restrictions

Loosen, test, loosen — How Seattle can emerge from COVID-19 restrictions

The official word: Seattle is “at least a month” from being able to begin lifting any of the restrictions currently in place across the state to slow the current COVID-19 outbreak.

Reports of a national plan to push aggressively to “reopen America” are being countered by local caution calling for more elements need to be in place before any relaxation of restrictions including increased testing, contact tracing, and hospitals fully prepared for a possible second outbreak. California, Oregon, and Washington have formed a three-state pact to coordinate the coming transition.

King County and Seattle officials are shaping expectations around a slow, week by week loosen-test-loosen approach as the region heads into summer. Washington’s current restrictions have been ordered by Gov. Jay Inslee though May 4th but are expected to be extended.

“The virus isn’t going anywhere,” King County Public Health’s Dr. Jeff Duchin told KUOW. “The vast majority of us are still susceptible. If we resume to have the type of contact we had prior to social distancing, this epidemic will rebound big time and we’ll see lots of cases and perhaps a peak that was even larger than what we’ve already experienced.”

“It’s not realistic to expect a change in policy in at least a month,” Duchin told media Tuesday.

But there is progress toward getting the needed infrastructure and processes in place. UW Medicine, for example, announced this week it will begin testing all patients for COVID-19 at its facilities including Harborview.

Through Monday, King County has now recorded more than 300 deaths in the outbreak. Currently, around 7 people with COVID-19 die here every day — a number that continues to drop. Across Capitol Hill and the Central District, there have been five reported deaths since the start of the pandemic — and none in nearly two weeks, according to Public Health’s reporting. After work by the county to identify more victims of the outbreak, those numbers will increase and some deaths surely related to the virus will never be recorded.

We’ve added updated graphs showing the latest totals through Tuesday.

In King County, while the rates of new positive cases and deaths have slowed, officials say they would like to see a lower transmission rate in addition to the call for increased testing and contact tracing before social restrictions are lifted.

A new study (embedded above) from Bellevue’s Institute for Disease Modelling shows that the restrictions have continued to work to slow the spread and show results that have “exceeded the short-term forecast in our previous report and reflects further reductions in COVID-19 transmission.”

As is usual during the COVID-19 crisi, the optimism is tempered by warnings. “Our collective efforts to limit physical interaction across society have stabilized the rate of spread of COVID-19,” the study concludes, “but the situation remains precarious with the effective reproductive number near and possibly varying above and below one. Continued adherence to physical distancing policies remains necessary to further reduce transmission; otherwise, rebound transmission is likely to occur.”

Get ready for a summer — and beyond — of loosen, test, and, hopefully, loosen some more.

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