THE NEW NORMAL IS WHAT LA CONNER NEEDS –  Tourists with shopping bag in hand and mask over mouth is the new face of the town well into the future.   – Photo by Ken Stern
THE NEW NORMAL IS WHAT LA CONNER NEEDS – Tourists with shopping bag in hand and mask over mouth is the new face of the town well into the future. – Photo by Ken Stern

COVID-19 cases in Skagit County are steadily climbing, with 21 cases found from Friday through Monday. Nine positive test cases were confirmed Friday and again Monday. The Skagit County Board of Health’s decision Friday to stay in Phase 2 was a necessity. The Board followed the recommendations they heard from County Public Health Director Jennifer Johnson and Public Health Officer Howard Leibrand.

“We are not eligible to submit,” Johnson said. “We are not meeting the metrics” of the state’s risk assessment dashboard. The County was at 27.1 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents that day.

The critical metric the County must meet is having 25 cases or fewer in a two-week period for its 130,000-person population. Fifty more COVID-19 cases were reported in the June 15-29 time frame.

June 26 was the first day the County was eligible to apply to move to Phase 3 of the state’s Start Safe public health reopening plan in the face of the coronavirus pandemic

“I do not know when we will be able to apply,” Johnson said , noting“We have to meet and sustain” the metric for cases reported to the Washington Department of Health.

Monday Leibrand was not surprised at the increase in cases. Contact tracing after people test positive shows that there are social gatherings that spread the virus, he told the Weekly News. The higher the number of people engaging with other, the more rapidly COVID-19 spreads. 

“The five contacts outside of a household per week is not a random number that people made up. If you meet with more people, then there are more options for you to contract the disease and to give the disease,” Leibrand said.

He understands the social and economic imperatives to get out of the house to maintain sanity. He continues to stress the public health mantra of mask wearing, maintaining social distance, frequent hand washing and hand and surface sanitizing.

“I don’t think we are getting to Phase 3 before the summer is over,” he said, matter-of-factly. “We will move to Phase 3, whether we get a vaccine or not, but it will not be as soon as people want to. The only way we will get to Phase 3 is to learn how to control this virus in Phase 2. It is clearly demonstrated that people have not learned how to deal with Phase 2, so we cannot talk about Phase 3 yet.” 

Johnson and Leibrand are confident of the County’s public health initiatives, with robust testing at Skagit Valley College through August and continuing, even if it moves. The health department staff support a comprehensive contact tracing plan. And hospitalizations and the percent of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients are below metric thresholds. Johnson told the Board that neighboring Snohomish and Whatcom counties will remain in Phase 2 also.

“It’s disappointing to see such high transmission emerging from unauthorized activities,” said Dr. Leibrand afterwards, through a press release. “People are participating in unauthorized gatherings and travel, contracting COVID-19 and then passing the illness on to their coworkers, friends and neighbors. We hope the community will view this as a wakeup call and start taking the guidance more seriously.”

The Board of Health accepted and agreed with the recommendation.