CAUTIOUS, MASK-ABIDING TOURISTS WELCOME –  Come to La Conner, but come masked. COVID-19 cases are increasing at a faster rate in Skagit County than other west-of-the-Cascade counties. Keep six feet from other people, and don't see more than five individuals the entire week. – Photo by Ken Stern
CAUTIOUS, MASK-ABIDING TOURISTS WELCOME – Come to La Conner, but come masked. COVID-19 cases are increasing at a faster rate in Skagit County than other west-of-the-Cascade counties. Keep six feet from other people, and don't see more than five individuals the entire week. – Photo by Ken Stern

Forget a La Conner Octoberfest-like street fair this fall. There will be no large public events, nor weddings nor funerals in Skagit County or anywhere in Washington state through the end of 2020. Monday the Skagit County Board of Health agreed to extend County Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Leibrand’s guidance on cancelling large scale events. These follow Gov. Jay Inslee’s July 23 announcement of a prohibition on all live entertainment – indoors and outdoors – including drive-in concerts, comedy clubs and music in restaurants and other rollbacks from his Safe Start phased reopening of the state’s economy.

The State health Department again used the phrase “runaway spread of COVID-19” in their release.

The report Leibrand and Skagit County Director of Public Health Jennifer Johnson gave at the Board’s bi-weekly meeting was not good.

Johnson started with the key result needed for the County to apply for Phase 3: fewer than 25 positive cases in a two-week period based on County population. Instead, the current two-week count is 113 cases. The July count is 218 new cases, she said.

A second key metric is not being met: testing 50 people per confirmed case. Tuesday’s rate was 35. “We are not meeting that metric simply because of the number of new cases,” she told the Board, even though their robust, low barrier, free testing site at Skagit Valley College is testing over 2,000 people weekly and testing is available at clinics and hospitals.

“We had hoped that we would be in a better position than we are by the end of the summer – but that just isn’t the case,” said Leibrand. “People just don’t seem to get it. This guidance should set expectations for all Skagitonians about what living with COVID-19 is going to be like for the foreseeable future.”

Leibrand compared the much lower-case rate in neighboring counties: Whatcom, 55 per 100,000; Snohomish, 85; King 94 per 100,000. Large outbreaks at a nursing home and a food processing facility are partial contributors, he said, but it is in-home spread among family members driving the increase.

“As our numbers go up there is a much bigger representation of younger age groups,” he said, citing three people in their 20s and 30s on ventilators in area hospitals and a 14-year old hospitalized at Children’s Hospital with organ failure. And he shared reports of “young people in their 20s to 40s with a mild case of COVID that doesn’t go away. Two and three weeks later they are too fatigued to go to work. This is affecting their lives.

“This disease can be fatal no matter what age that you are; this is not just for your older relatives but for yourselves,” he said, as if speaking to the entire county population.

Johnson summed up impending restrictions: Starting Thursday restaurants close at 10 p.m. Occupancy will be limited to 50% and five members of the same family for inside dining. Indoor entertainment, including bowling and card rooms, is banned. She quoted John Wiesman, the state’s secretary of health: “If you are not alone in a room you should be wearing a mask.”

She held out hope, given widespread public participation. “The virus not at an uncontrollable level. We really need everyone to do their part. We want to move to phase 3, We want our business to open. We want to go back to doing what we are used to doing” she told the Board.

Wear a mask; stay home as much as possible; every decision helps as much as possible, she emphasized.

Leibrand followed up, saying people “taking risks is prolonging the time that you will do this” and appealed to “making our summer local. This is a summer of social distancing. You can still have fun but try to do them without exposing yourself and exposing others.” 

He called “completely essential” wearing a mask, keeping distance from others and limiting to five people the entire week interactions with others
Laura Gelwicks, the County’s public information officer, was asked about messaging and gave the last words: “There is no secret magic ingredient for slowing the spread of COVID-19. We are really looking at personal responsibility.”

Skagit County Board of Health members are Dr. Connie Davis and Commissioners Ken Dahlstadt, Lisa Janicki and Ron Wesen. They seek a fifth member.

The Board will meet Aug. 13 at 11 a.m.

Board and Public Health staff encouraged more people to volunteer at the testing site. Call 360-416-1500.