FILE–In this Aug. 7, 2015, file photo, Mount Baker, Wash., is visible during a clear morning. Search and rescue officials say four Scouts are missing in an attempted summit of Mount Baker in Washington state.(AP Photo/Manuel Valdes, file)
Long before New York City became the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., a 35-year-old man who had recently returned from visiting family in Wuhan, China, walked into an urgent care clinic in Snohomish County, WA on January 19. He presented with a four-day cough history. The next day, this man would become the first person in America to test positive for COVID-19.
From there, the number of cases grew slowly, but steadily, boosted by a group of cases at the Life Care Center (nursing home in Kirkland, WA). At least 35 patients at this facility have since died from the virus. As it continued to spread, the numbers began to increase faster. After March 8, the number of new cases from one day to the next averaged about 50 percent. For example, if there were 500 new cases one day, there would be roughly 750 the following day.
Eight days ago, I wrote a post in which I wondered if perhaps the “curve” might be flattening in the state. Was the ratio of the number of new confirmed cases to the total cases starting to decrease?
The Washington Post’s Robert Klemko spoke to officials at the EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland, WA who believe “they might have flattened the curve.”
Officials told Klemko “the rate of new COVID-19 cases has remained steady for two weeks, leveling off at a trickle. On some days, they see just one new case and haven’t seen more than four in a single day since mid-March. Few need admission to the intensive care unit, which is now half full, two weeks after overflow necessitated transfers to nearby hospitals.”
EvergreenHealth CEO Jeff Tomlin explained: “We don’t know if this last two weeks has been a calm before the storm or if the social distancing and all those things that are being practiced are working. You will never hear me declaring victory at any point of this. But I can tell you we’re making sure we have enough supplies, beds and ventilators as we can. I’d say we’re gearing up just in case a surge does happen like in New York or in Italy.”
The number of new confirmed cases statewide spiked on March 15, but it has slowed significantly ever since. As of March 26, the state has had 2,580 confirmed cases and 132 deaths.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee spoke to reporters on Thursday, “We know this is still a dire challenge, we know we have not turned the corner and we are not even close to the end of this battle, but we do think there is some evidence that our community mitigation strategy — to close schools, restaurants and theaters, to prohibit gatherings — we think these things have slowed the rate of increase in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties.”
Klemko reported that the governor was pointing to a graph showing state’s rate of new cases beginning to flatten while most other states trend upward.
Inslee added, “It is a glimmer of hope, This is suggestive that some of the things we’re doing together is having some very modest improvement. The things we did two weeks ago are now appearing in our hospitals.”
Klemko reports that the situation is more serious at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue, about seven miles south of Kirkland, where doctors have seen a recent uptick in cases, with about 20 to 30 positive tests a day, what they believe to be due to viral spread throughout the region before strict social-distancing policies took effect two weeks ago.”
Overlake’s chief medical officer, David Knoepfler, said his hospital has “about 70 covid-positive cases — or people they are working to rule out — and that patient traffic has been much higher and accelerating quickly.” He thinks that the state’s social distancing policies could lead to an imminent decline. “What we are seeing now is a result of delaying the social distancing until 1-2 weeks ago. I am hopeful that in another week we will see some leveling off.”
What would account for the differences between EvergreenHealth and Overlake? Let me preface this by saying that I am not a doctor or a health official. My uneducated guess would be that since EvergreenHealth was the first to be hit (Kirkland was ground zero in the state), they are simply further along in the cycle of the pandemic.
While this news isn’t definitive by any means, it is the first glimmer of hope that we’ve seen since this began.