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Cases are going up because we’re testing more, right? That’s only part of the reason.

Why did cases increase so much recently? And what does it mean? How bad is COVID-19 in our community?

Laboratories across Pierce County and the state are working quickly to process COVID-19 tests. The number of tests conducted is increasing every week. But the increase is not enough to account for the increase in cases.

At Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, we watch the data closely to learn where the increase in cases is coming from. People may want to point to one group or another. Is it long-term care centers? Is it protesters? Restaurants? Parties and celebrations? People out and about without masks?

Well, Pierce County, as we said recently, it’s all of us.

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The bad news.

COVID-19 is widespread in the community and no specific outbreak is driving our case numbers. COVID-19 spreads when people come in contact with other people. Any close contact where droplets could spread, even from an asymptomatic person, can spread COVID-19. We are seeing an increase in younger people testing positive. And each day, we are investigating cases at several businesses. Wearing a face covering and following other workplace precautions is so important.

Traffic and cellphone mobility are up. People are going out and about, getting exposed, and exposing others. You can expose others or get exposed to COVID-19 at work, at a social gathering, during recreational activities, in a business, or at a demonstration. COVID-19 can spread anytime and anywhere people gather, even if the infected person does not feel sick.

More people are getting tested every week. But the percentage of positive tests is increasing even more. This means the level of COVID-19 disease is increasing in our community. 

Since the end of May to the end of June, our percent positive has almost doubled from around 2% to around 4%. Our target is less than 2%. For the latest data, go to our Safe Start dashboard.

If testing alone was the cause of the increase in cases, the percentage of positive cases would stay the same or go down.

Reason for hope.

The good news is we are not yet seeing an increase in deaths or hospitalizations. We won’t know for a few more weeks whether this good news will hold. This disease takes a while to recover from. Some don’t. See our data dashboard for our estimated number of recovered COVID-19 cases.

In a recent report, the Institute for Disease Modeling in Bellevue said, “(while) the overall number of cases have recently been increasing, COVID-19 deaths have been decreasing. This is likely primarily driven by the caseload shifting to younger people, who have substantially lower mortality risk from COVID-19 infection.”

As caregivers learn more about this disease, patient care improves and patients have better outcomes. For example, hospitals nationwide have reported the percent of hospitalized COVID-19 patients who die has decreased over the past two months. Read a recent Washington Post story for more information.

More good news is we know what to do to get all the numbers going in the right direction again. Just like it took all of us to get here, it will take all of us to get better:

  • Wear a mask when you leave home. No shirt, no shoes, no mask? No service.
  • Stay close to home.
  • Interact with a small circle of friends and family.
  • Keep gatherings small, and outside if possible where fresh air circulates and more physical distancing space is available.
  • Get tested for COVID-19 if you are experiencing symptoms.
  • Get tested for COVID-19 if you have participated in any large gatherings.
  • Wash your hands, cover your cough, and keep up your best hygiene and sanitation.

Testing data improvements.

Today we improved the testing data on our Safe Start dashboard to provide more information about COVID-19 tests. We added a graph with the percent of positive tests and average number of daily tests for each week since mid-May. The testing recommendations changed at the end of May. You can now see how these two metrics have changed over time. Much like the COVID-19 case data, we continually receive new and updated testing data from labs. We will revise and update these metrics each week as we receive the new data.

We will continue carefully reviewing the data, and you can follow along on our dashboards. Learn more at tpchd.org/coronavirus.