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As case counts rise, will we see an increase in deaths and hospitalizations?

All of us are concerned about COVID-19 and are eager to return to normal. People often study our data in search of encouraging signs.

Many of you noticed we haven’t seen a spike in deaths and hospitalizations even as our case counts have increased.

We will continue to watch all the data, including the recent increase in case counts. But focusing on any one metric doesn’t tell the whole story.

Who is getting sick?

After we advanced to Phase 2 of Gov. Inslee’s Safe Start plan, we started to see a change in who was becoming infected with COVID-19. Younger people now account for many more of our cases. Right now, 22.2% of cases are people aged 20-29.

Why is this? Many younger adults resumed their social lives, while older people remained at home. We see this across Pierce County.

Recently, we wrote about an outbreak stemming from a party attended by a large group of young adults. We know it’s summer and people want to have fun. But gatherings like this are causing many of our new cases. We also know outbreaks among older folks at long-term care facilities aren’t behind our rising numbers.

Female doctor nurse hospital hall

Loving your elders means protecting your elders.

Younger adults usually experience milder symptoms and are less likely to be hospitalized. But young adults are around older people at work or at family gatherings who are at higher risk of serious illness or death. You can be ill and contagious for several days without knowing it.

Your decisions don’t just affect you. Your choices also affect older people you love and respect. If you are thinking about attending a social gathering, take a moment to think how you would feel if you later infected an older family member. Or, if you were the reason a friend got exposed, had to stay out of work for two weeks or longer, and possibly lost their job. Some young adults may want to intentionally expose themselves to the disease to “get it over with.” This is also irresponsible. COVID-19 is not the flu or chicken pox.

COVID-19 can be dangerous. Remember we don’t know the long-term effects of this new disease. Some illnesses harm people in unforeseen ways months or years down the road. It’s possible some people who experience mild symptoms now could have serious complications later.

COVID-19 is a lengthy illness.

We know it takes time for new cases to become hospitalizations, and for hospitalizations to become deaths.

Second, a lag time exists between increases in cases and increases in deaths. The lag will delay our understanding of how the disease is shifting.

This disease creeps along, spreading through the community. Most patients experience mild symptoms. But some people eventually suffer serious complications, often very quickly and with tragic results.

Pierce County’s first COVID-19 diagnosis came March 6. The first death was March 17. At the end of March, we saw 77 cases in one day and more than 400 cases that week. Deaths reached their peak on April 20.

We saw our highest case count yet—81 cases on July 11 and 763 cases in the last 14 days. We will have to wait to see how many of these cases turn into hospitalizations and deaths.

While you Stayed Home and Stayed Healthy, we were busy preparing.

We expected cases to increase when we entered Phase 2. We spent the first several months of the pandemic preparing for it.

We added disease investigators, who quickly follow the spread. They talk with people who are ill or who have been exposed and ask them to isolate or quarantine. Their work protects the rest of us and helps us better understand shifting trends.

We also:

  • Formed a facilities team to quickly help contain outbreaks.
  • Established temporary care facilities for people who need a place to isolate or quarantine.
  • Introduced mobile testing to reach people who might otherwise lack services.

Continue to watch our Safe Start dashboard to stay up to date on the latest shifts and trends in the numbers.