COVID Weekly Report for Jan. 12, 2021: Vaccine distribution still a work in progress; state’s new phased reopening plan now in effect

The vaccine – and more specifically related distribution snags– tops the coronavirus news this week.

According to CNN, the latest word from the Trump administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is the pending announcement of sweeping changes to the vaccine rollout guidelines as the latest in an all-out effort to boost the lagging number of vaccinations. Part of this includes plans to release the previously held-back second vaccine doses immediately. This effectively adopts the approach proposed by the incoming Biden administration, which Trump officials had only last week disparaged but now appear to be embracing.

The new federal plan would also change guidelines to allow vaccinations immediately for anyone 65 and older and would offer help to states in setting up mass vaccination sites, while increasing more accessible venues such as pharmacies.  Read more from CNN here.

Here in Washington state, the vaccine distribution plan continues to be a work in progress. How the new federal guidelines will affect this is unknown at this point. According to the Washington Vaccine Information website, “…these plans are living documents and will change over time as we learn more about the vaccines and figure out the most equitable way to protect people.” As the plan is updated, the latest changes will be available here.

The new public health measures outlined in Gov. Inslee’s Healthy Washington plan took effect Monday, Jan. 11. The plan divides the state into multi-county regions, all of which are initially in Phase 1, the most restrictive category. Details of how the guidelines apply to various businesses and other groups are available here.

In an ongoing push to contain spread of the virus, state officials continue to urge Washingtonians to up their commitment to mask wearing, hand washing and fewer, shorter and smaller social gatherings.

The Washington State Coronavirus Response team has issued the following updated advice:

“We must prevent runaway spread of COVID-19 in Washington state. Our individual actions make a difference. Fewer, shorter and safer interactions are crucial. When you go out, keep it quick, keep your distance and wear a face covering. Limit the number of people outside your household that you gather with every week. If you feel symptoms of COVID-19, get tested.

Gathering in groups—even with people we know—may spread COVID-19. The safest action, especially if you’re in a high-risk category, is to avoid gatherings and find different ways to celebrate.”

Advice and guidelines on simple actions that help everyone stay safe are available on the Response Team’s website here.

This was echoed Tuesday in a statement by Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers.

“Case rates are once again on the rise, currently showing 428 cases per 100,000 population for the two-week period ending Jan. 9,” Somers said. “This is our second-highest case rate since the beginning of the pandemic. Our choices determine how quickly our community can return to normal. Wear a mask. Avoid crowds. Wash your hands.”

To help you, our readers, stay updated on the continuing battle with the pandemic, here once again are the latest numbers, charts, and statistics from the world to our own backyards.

The world and national situation:

This week’s global COVID case count as reported by Johns Hopkins University has surpassed 90 million cases since the start of the pandemic a year ago, a gain of more than 5 million since last week. Worldwide deaths are closing in on the sobering milestone of 2 million. The U. S. gained another 2 million new cases this week, pushing the total to more than 22 million, with just shy of 380,000 deaths. The U.S. continues to lead the world in both these measures.

This week the U.S. moved up from fifth to fourth place worldwide in COVID death rates, with 114.94 deaths per 100,000 population. (Mortality chart from Johns Hopkins University).

Overall trends in the U.S. since April 1 are summarized in the charts below from the COVID Tracking Project. Note that the red dots indicate new single-day records for the various metrics.

The Washington state situation

Work continues this week at the Department of Health to update and clean up cumulative counts for cases, hospitalizations, and deaths as it removes duplicate cases and reassigns cases to correct dates and locations. The Department of Health continues to alert users to expect adjustments in historical data as this work progresses.

Statewide the numbers continue to climb but are showing signs of leveling off. The most recent (Jan. 10) state overview from the Washington Department of Health shows the confirmed case counting gaining almost 20,000 this week, topping out at 265,312 (from 246,376 last week) and deaths at 3,699, a gain of more than 200 from the previous week’s count.  Total molecular tests (not including serum tests for antibodies) administered now have surpassed 4 million.

The statewide daily new case count as of Jan. 10 continues to back off from the Dec. 11 high of 4,111 as shown in this chart from DOH. While some of the drop-off is due to the aforementioned historic data adjustments currently in progress at the Washington Department of Health, the trend is encouraging. Note that here – as with all DOH charts – the grey bars indicate data that are incomplete and still being tabulated.

This trend is further reflected in the Jan. 10 case rate of 390.2 (cases per 100K population, two-week rolling average), down from last week’s figure of 409.9 and still well above the state goal of 25.

Trends in Washington state’s daily hospitalization and death counts continue to predictably lag the case count trends.  Hospitalizations are beginning to reflect the early December decline in cases (after the post-Thanksgiving surge), while this has yet to show up in daily death counts which are still on the rise. Note that officials are bracing for the expected surge in all 3 metrics in the wake of the anticipated post-holiday rise in infections. As above, the grey bars in both charts posted Jan. 10 are based on incomplete data (according to DOH lagging as much as 18 days for hospitalizations and 4-6 weeks for deaths) and are expected to rise as the numbers are finalized.

Testing activity has declined this week in Washington state with the passing of the holidays and the high demand for tests they brought (note the bump in December). The second chart shows the percentage of positive test results jumping to 17.1 percent, a disturbing trend that suggests the possibility of a rising infection rate this spring. Note that these numbers are for molecular (nose swab) tests and do not include blood serum (antibody) tests

This week we have replaced the county-by-county map based on the old Safe Start Program guidelines with new illustrations taken from the first Roadmap To Recovery report.

The first of these shows the various multi-county regions within the state, all of which are currently in Phase 1.

Four metrics are considered in determining the phase for each region:

  • A 10% or greater decrease in the rate of COVID cases per 100,000 population in most recent 14-day period measured compared to the prior 14-day period.
  • A 10% or greater decrease in the rate of new COVID hospital admission rates per 100,000 in most recent 14-day period measured compared to the prior 14-day period.
  • Test positivity of less than 10% for the most recent seven-day period measured.
  • Total ICU occupancy of less than 90% for the most recent seven-day period measured.

The table below shows how the various regions currently stack up.

Snohomish County is grouped into the Puget Sound region along with King and Pierce counties.

Based on the first dashboard update, the Puget Sound Region is meeting only three of the four criteria and is therefore not eligible to advance at this time.

The region needs to see a 10% or greater decrease in hospital admission rates per 100,000 when comparing two-week periods. The period from Dec. 20 to Jan. 2 saw a 1% increase in hospital admission rates across the region compared to the period from Dec. 9 to Dec. 19.

View the complete report here.

Additional details are available in this press release from the Snohomish Health District.


The Snohomish County situation:

The county numbers overview as of Jan. 10 shows total confirmed cases at 24,729, up 2,000 from last week, and total deaths at 419, a gain of 30.

The Jan. 10 Snohomish County daily new case count shows continuing high numbers despite daily aberrations. This chart from the Snohomish Health District provides daily numbers for the entire record-keeping period, but as referenced above the historical data are subject to change as the DOH data cleanup continues.

Trends in critical county measures through Jan. 12 show a jump in active cases, suggesting increased exposure over the holidays as one potential cause.

The two-week rolling average case rate per 100,000 chart from the Snohomish Health District reflects this, with the most recent rate rising this week to just shy of the all-time high recorded Dec. 1 as those infected over the Thanksgiving holiday began showing symptoms.

The mortality bar for Snohomish County increased again this week, reflecting the larger state and national trends as reported above.

The local situation in our home cities:

Note: With the exception of death numbers, data for these charts (total cases and recovered cases) are taken from the most recent Snohomish Health District Snapshots and Reports webpage. Due to a change in data reporting schedules from the Snohomish Health District, death numbers for individual cities and jurisdictions are now being reported biweekly. We have compensated by using the previous week’s numbers for deaths only. This means that deaths will show zero increase from our last report, and numbers of active cases will be artificially depressed (see previous numbers in the Jan. 5 Snohomish County Health District Weekly Report). We will substitute the new data in next week’s update.

Critical metrics (total cases, recovered cases, deaths, and active cases) for our home cities show active cases once again on the rise, but note that this figure is preliminary and will be updated when the latest individual city death numbers are available.

The local numbers summary as of Jan. 12 shows a marked increase in active COVID cases in our area (right hand column), but be aware that updated death numbers expected next week could change this. Our source for death numbers is the Snohomish County Health District, and they are now reporting these biweekly rather than weekly. We will update with the new numbers in our next report.

The data, tables and charts in today’s report come from the following sources:

— By Larry Vogel

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