Amid a continuing rise in cases in Walla Walla County, health officials announced Thursday two residents have died after testing positive for COVID-19.
One man was in his 60s and the other man was in his 80s, officials said.
As of 10:30 a.m., the confirmed COVID-19 count stood at 354 active cases, 12 current related hospitalizations, nine deaths and an overall total of 1,408 people.
Walla Walla County’s Public Health Officer, Dr. Larry Jecha, said Thursday the uptick of local cases mostly likely has two causes: increased social gatherings and people spending more time indoors with less air movement.
He acknowledged people are asking questions about the county potentially being pushed out of Phase 2 reopening and back to Phase 1 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-step “Safe Start” plan with the recent acceleration in COVID-19 numbers.
“But you look at where the cases are occurring. It’s not at businesses or stores, that’s not where the spread is,” the physican said.
“We are seeing gatherings in the homes, and if you go back to Phase 1, you wouldn’t be changing anything.”
Jecha said that while school districts have the right to decide to close back down, the cases of infection are not being found in those settings.
Like its viral siblings, COVID-19 is “a changing ball game,” and has moved from sickening and killing very old people to infecting younger, less-vulnerable age groups more able withstand the health assault the virus can bring, he said.
“Pandemics are like that … it hit nursing homes in the beginning and we had a lot more deaths.”
Careful protection measures are giving way to fatigue for some in Walla Walla County and elsewhere. As well, it is human nature to want to socialize, he pointed out.
“People are talking about relatives visiting from out of state and people think that because they are friends, they don’t have to wear masks.”
The next week should show any bump-up in case numbers from Halloween activities, Jecha said.
“We’re holding our breath on that.”
COVID-19 is not the only illness on the rise, he added.
“This is when we see a lot of respiratory illnesses, in early fall. And then we go to the flu in the winter.”
While the recent increases in case numbers here and elsewhere in the nation is concerning, Washington is in better shape than many states, Jecha said.
“You look at states that don’t have masking policies, it makes a difference. It’s not public health, it’s people’s behaviors that will get us out of this.”
In Umatilla County, officials said Thursday morning there are 26 more people who have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. That brings the county’s total of cases to 3,556, including 45 related deaths.