What do the numbers tell us about COVID-19 in the state of Washington?


Clark County has 4.9 percent of statewide cases; area hospitals remain uncrowded; COVID-19 death rate continues to decline

NOTE: The information on available ICU beds has been updated in this story, following a change in reporting by Clark County Public Health. Previously, the county had been reporting ICU beds as a percentage of all beds, rather than a percentage of total ICU beds in Clark County hospitals.

On Sunday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced four weeks of new statewide restrictions for Washington. 

“Today, Sunday, November 15, 2020, is the most dangerous public health day in the last 100 years of our state’s history. A pandemic is raging in our state. Left unchecked, it will assuredly result in grossly overburdened hospitals and morgues; and keep people from obtaining routine but necessary medical treatment for non-COVID conditions.”

What do the numbers show? A citizen might ask: Is our hospital system actually on the verge of being overburdened? Are morgues on the verge of being overburdened? Where are all the COVID-19 cases occurring in our state?

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, King County accounts for 26 percent of Washington state’s 125,498 COVID cases. They report 33,043 cases as of last week.  Five counties account for almost 64 percent of the cases in the state.. 

King County has over five times the number of cases as Clark County. The second largest number of cases in the state is Pierce County at 12,547; 38 percent of King County and double the number of Clark County. As a percentage of the state’s total cases, Clark County’s 6,160 cases is 4.9 percent.

When it comes to fatalities, King County accounts for 836 deaths; over ten times the 80 deaths reported in Clark County. Pierce County has reported 247 deaths.

Washington Department of Health data shows King County has 26 percent of all COVID-19 cases in the state and over five times the number in Clark County. King County has one third of all COVID-19 deaths in the state. Graphic Washington Department of Health
Washington Department of Health data shows King County has 26 percent of all COVID-19 cases in the state and over five times the number in Clark County. King County has one third of all COVID-19 deaths in the state. Graphic Washington Department of Health

One of Gov. Inslee’s metrics for reopening the state is “cases per 100,000” population. Using that metric, King County isn’t number one in the state. It’s actually number 14 of the 39 counties in Washington. Franklin County has that distinction, with 5,317 cases and 69 deaths. But because they have such a small population, 95,222 people, Franklin County’s case rate per 100,000 people is 5,584 making them nearly four times “worse” than King County using that metric.

Clark County is seventh in the state for total cases and number 19 for cases per 100,000. As of the 2010 census, it is the fifth most populous county in the state. Washington’s total population is estimated at 7.6 million people, and Clark County population is estimated at 488,000 for 2019.

On Monday, emergency room physician and former candidate for governor, Dr. Raul Garcia shared his observations and concerns.

Garcia says doesn’t believe we need a one-size-fits-all solution.

“The reason that we have had an increase in numbers is number one, we’re testing more people,” he said. “Number two, people are choosing their mental health over getting this virus which is 98 percent survivable.

“This virus is dangerous, this virus is contagious. But we can beat this virus without crippling our mental health, without crippling our economic health in the state. That is exactly what we’re doing with these mandates. We are not thinking about the fact that 1.6 million people have come out and asked for mental health help.

“We need to be consistent following scientific data. I think that if we give the power to our counties, have our commissioners get together with the medical leaders and the mental health leaders of that county and business leaders, each county could find solutions that balance COVID-19 with mental health and with business health. And, every county is going to be different.”

Looking at the national picture by county, Los Angeles County has one third of a million COVID-19 cases — leading the nation at 332,865. King County is number 50 in the nation and Pierce County is number 176. Multnomah County is number 179 with 12,382 cases and 191 deaths. 

The top five counties in the United States account for 1,120,226 cases. They are Los Angeles County; Cook County, Illinois; Miami-Dade County, Florida; Maricopa County, Arizona; and Harris County, Texas. Those five counties account for over 10 percent of the 10.6 million U.S. COVID-19 cases.

The original concern triggering the “stay home, stay safe” order by Governor Inslee and others was the fear of overrunning hospital capacity. He wanted to make sure our healthcare system could handle all the expected COVID-19 cases.

Washington state has 10,312 hospital beds according to the American Hospital Directory. The data shows COVID-19 patients occupation of those hospital beds peaked at 516 beds, or 5 percent of the statewide total, the week of March 29 early in the pandemic.

In Washington, 9,281 COVID-19 patients have been hospitalized over the past eight and one half months; less than the total available beds statewide. Current data shows 608 people hospitalized for the virus; about 5.9 percent of the state’s hospital beds.

The COVIC Tracking Project shows daily and 7-day moving average for the number of COVID-19 tests, the number of cases, the number of hospitalizations, and the number of deaths in Washington state from April 1. Graphic by COVID Tracking Project
The COVIC Tracking Project shows daily and 7-day moving average for the number of COVID-19 tests, the number of cases, the number of hospitalizations, and the number of deaths in Washington state from April 1. Graphic by COVID Tracking Project

A September study by Biomedcentral reported an average hospital stay of five days for COVID-19 patients outside of China. For ICU patients, it was seven days.

Here in Clark County, there are 616 hospital beds. Legacy Salmon Creek has 166 beds and . PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver has 450 beds. In the week before Gov. Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order was issued, there were 21 people hospitalized with the virus in Clark County, or 3.4 percent of available beds.

According to Clark County Public Health data, there are presently 56 people with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 hospitalized. The county reports 8.9 percent of hospital beds are currently occupied by these patients. Over the entire pandemic, it is reported 422 people have been hospitalized with the virus.

Currently, Clark County Public Health says 25 percent of ICU beds in the county are available. This is a change from over 88 percent on Friday, after the county adjusted its reporting. Previously, ICU beds were counted as a percentage of all beds. The county’s reporting system now counts ICU beds as a separate category.

The good news is that area healthcare providers appear to have done an excellent job dealing with COVID-19 patients and returning them to good health. The number of people dying due to COVID-19 has been declining.

The state Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard shows the highest daily death toll from COVID-19 was 34 on March 23. Even as daily new cases have far surpassed the peak in March, and then another in July, death rates have remained relatively steady.

As of Oct. 13, the rolling 7-day average of daily deaths in Washington was 9, far below the peak of 28 per day in late March.

The COVID-19 Tracking Project, which uses CDC data, confirms that there is reason to be hopeful.

The increase in COVID-19 cases has not been followed by a similar rate of increase in mortality. Younger people are getting the virus and the medical community appears to be getting better at treating the virus. Graphic by Covid Tracking Project
The increase in COVID-19 cases has not been followed by a similar rate of increase in mortality. Younger people are getting the virus and the medical community appears to be getting better at treating the virus. Graphic by Covid Tracking Project

“The gap that opens up between the hospitalization and fatality curves illustrates one of the most encouraging pieces of news about the pandemic in the United States.

“This pattern in the data we compile is borne out by a recent finding that in one large New York healthcare system, patients hospitalized with COVID-19 had a greater than 25 percent chance of dying at the beginning of the pandemic. By August, COVID-19 patients admitted to the same hospital system had a less than eight percent chance of dying.”

So while testing is up and the number of COVID-19 cases is up, fewer people are dying from the virus.

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About The Author

John is a retired airline pilot, serving Delta for over 31 years. Prior to Delta, he served in the US Air Force for 11 and a half years; three and a half years as a Public Affairs Officer and eight years as a pilot. John flew multiple airplanes around the world for Delta, retiring as a B-767 Captain. During his 31 years at Delta, John served as a member of the pilot’s union leadership, representing the Portland-based pilots for five years. John got involved in area politics during the Columbia River Crossing debate. He became a citizen activist, speaking out against wasteful spending and fighting for common sense transportation solutions. He ran for the Washington state legislature twice, a Representative position in 2014 and Senate in 2020. John is the eldest of six children. He remains extremely close with members of his family and lives in Oregon and Washington. He has 14 nieces and nephews and a growing number of “grands” in the next generation. John has enjoyed skiing, scuba diving, travel, and time on his Harley when he’s not busy with local issues or flying.

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