COVID Weekly Report for Jan. 5, 2021: Virus surges worldwide, while local numbers show some improvement

Welcome to 2021, and our newly-formatted COVID report. For the new year we have eliminated some charts and tables, added some new ones, and streamlined our reporting on local numbers to better utilize the available data. Our aim continues to be to provide you – our readers – with a one-stop-shop to gain a comprehensive overview of progress in fighting the pandemic at all levels, with a special focus on our state, county and local communities. 

The first week of the new year finds the world continuing to reel from an onslaught of rising COVID cases and deaths, exacerbated by the runaway spread of a new, more virulent virus strain. First discovered in the U.K., where it now the dominant form of the virus, the mutant quickly spread to other countries including the U.S., with reported cases now in Colorado, California, Florida and New York. So far, no cases of the new variant have been reported in Washington state. While it is significantly more contagious, there is no evidence that it causes more severe symptoms, is more deadly, or is resistant to the new vaccines.

On the bright side, vaccinations have begun with hundreds of thousands of doses delivered, but actual vaccinations are falling far short of the rosy earlier predictions due to state and local distribution snags. Here at home, Washington State continues to fine tune its vaccine distribution plan, which as of early this week remains a work in progress. As details are finalized, updates will be published on the State Department of Health Vaccine Update page detailing who falls into the various priority groups and when the vaccine will be available to them.

In the meantime, in an ongoing push to contain spread of the virus, state officials are doubling down on urging 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 advice:

“Our individual actions make a difference. Fewer, shorter and safer interactions are crucial. Shrinking your social circle and skipping indoor gatherings are both important right now. Reducing close contact with others is paramount. Staying home is still safest. Gathering in groups—even with people we know—may spread COVID-19. The more people we interact with at a gathering and the longer that interaction lasts, the higher the risk of becoming infected.

“The safest action, especially if you’re in a high-risk category, is to avoid gatherings and find different ways to celebrate. If you do go out, keep it quick, keep your distance and wear a face covering. Recreate and do business locally to avoid spreading the virus across county lines. Limit the number of people outside your household that you gather with every week. And if you feel symptoms of COVID-19, get tested.”

In addition, on Tuesday Gov. Inslee issued a new phased recovery program for the state that calls for a two-phase system, where all regions begin at phase one. It is set to go into effect on Jan. 11.

To help you, our readers, navigate this sea of information and sort this out for yourselves, 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 shows more than 86 million cases and 1.8 million deaths since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago. The U.S. has now topped 20 million cases and more than 355,000 deaths, continuing to lead the world in both these sobering measures.

The U.S. is now in fifth place worldwide in COVID deaths per 100,000 population. This week the U.S. hit a new high of 108.04 COVID deaths per 100K compared to 97.61 in mid-December. (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:

The Department of Health continues to update and clean up its cumulative counts for cases, hospitalizations, and deaths as it removes duplicate cases and reassigns cases to correct dates and locations. Expect adjustments in historical data as this work continues.

Statewide, the numbers continue to climb but are showing signs of leveling off. The most recent (Jan. 3) state overview from the Department of Health shows confirmed cases at 246,376 and deaths at 3,482. Total molecular tests (not including serum tests for antibodies) administered now stands just shy of 4 million.

The daily new case counts as of Jan. 3 for Washington state have backed off somewhat from the Dec. 11 high of 4,111 as shown in this chart from Johns Hopkins. While some of the drop-off is due to the aforementioned historic data adjustments currently in progress at the state Department of Health, the trend is encouraging. (See the interactive chart for Washington state on the Johns Hopkins website here).

This trend is further reflected in the Jan. 3 case rate of 409. 9 (cases per 100K population, two-week rolling average), down from mid-December’s high of 509.9. While we remain well above the state goal of 25, we are at least moving in the right direction.

Trends in Washington state’s daily hospitalization and death counts continue their steady rise, but because they lag behind overall new case counts can reasonably expected to level off somewhat in the coming weeks. The grey bars in both charts posted Jan. 3 are based on incomplete data (according to DOH lagging as much as 18 days for hospitalizations and four to six weeks for deaths) and are expected to rise as the numbers are finalized. But nonetheless, the upward trend in both these metrics is discouraging.

Testing activity continues to ramp up in Washington state as unprecedented numbers of Washingtonians sought tests in the lead-up to the holidays (note the bump in December). The second chart shows the percentage of positive test results at 9.4%, trending up after a decline in December and still far above the 2% state goal. Note that these numbers are for molecular (nose swab) test and do not include blood serum (antibody) tests.

While the map below shows the county-by-county status of reopening under the Safe Start program announced by Gov. Inslee on May 31, more recent restrictions have rendered these guidelines mostly obsolete by mandating renewed shutdowns and other measures. We continue to include this graphic because the table to the left of the map provides a one-stop quick summary of the latest numbers and critical metrics, some of which are reported in more detail above.


The Snohomish County situation:

The county numbers overview as of Jan. 3 shows total confirmed cases at 22,769, up from the Dec. 20 count of 19,881, and total deaths at 389.

The Jan. 4 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. 4 show active cases trending down driven by a somewhat slower accumulation of new cases accompanied by higher recovery numbers, a welcome change from the October-December third wave increases

The two-week rolling average case rate per 100,000 chart from the Snohomish Health District shows a slight uptick at 350 cases, but still well off the late November “third wave” high of 444, a change that we hope will continue as the vaccine is more widely distributed.

The mortality bar for Snohomish County increased this week, but not as much as the week before. Note that as referenced above, these data are part of the current cleanup effort at DOH, and are subject to change in the coming weeks.


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 web page.  Death numbers are taken from the latest Snohomish County Health District Weekly Report, and lag by one week.  Because these are coming from two different sources, where necessary figures have been interpolated for clarity.

Critical metrics (total cases, recovered cases, deaths, and active cases) for our home cities show an encouraging local trend as active cases continue to drop, driven by slower new case accumulation and rising numbers of recoveries.

The local numbers summary as of Jan. 4 shows a marked decrease in active COVID cases in our area (right-hand column), evidence that the combination of the latest round of restrictions, more widespread mask wearing, and maintaining distancing by avoiding crowds and not gathering in groups is having a positive effect.

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

— By Larry Vogel

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