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Washington state begins to ask: how does the coronavirus crisis end?

The first person confirmed to have tested positive for the coronavirus in the US by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was a resident of Snohomish county, Washington.
That was on 21 January. In the weeks that have followed, the state, which has a population of more than 7.5 million people, has seen over 9,000 confirmed cases, including 421 deaths.

Washington’s governor, Jay Inslee, has closed schools, ordered Seattle News a halt to all elective surgeries and issued a stay-home mandate, which involves a ban on all gatherings and the closure of all businesses, except grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and other essential companies. Last week, he extended that order to 4 May, saying that was “absolutely the soonest we possibly could achieve our ends to keep our loved ones safe.”

But though the path back to “normal” life is still some way off, the state’s early and comprehensive response looks to be flattening the curve of coronavirus infections. With the worsening of the financial crisis brought on by the public health emergency, that has prompted the questions: when, and how, could this end?

Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s leading expert on infectious diseases, recently explained that it will be clear the outbreak is nearing its conclusion in the US when the number of new infections is approaching almost zero and the number of deaths is not far behind.

“I believe that in a few months, hopefully, that we’ll get it under control enough that it won’t be as frightening as it is now, but it will not be an absent threat,” he told the New York Times.

Washington saw the initial outbreak of the virus in the US and, after the infection struck a nursing home in the state, reported the country’s highest numbers of cases and deaths for weeks. But the state has since moved far behind hotspot states like New York, which has a far greater population of almost 20 million. Today, Washington state has the 11th-highest number of cases in the US, according to the CDC.

A projection from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent population health research center at UW Medicine, shows that Washington hit its peak in coronavirus deaths 11 days ago, with 24 fatalities. In contrast, New York’s peak is projected to hit this week.

Washington’s low numbers can be attributed to the simple fact that its cities are less dense than those in states like New York. Its communities may also be following social distancing measures more closely.

But officials also tested and found cases of coronavirus early, then quickly proceeded to ramp up preparedness, explained Hilary Godwin, dean of the University of Washington school of public health.

“Our hospitals have been preparing, building up capacity,” she said. “Once we got to the point where we had to do social distancing because the number of cases was so great, we were really well positioned and were able to roll those things out really systematically.”

Dr Scott Lindquist, Washington state’s epidemiologist for communicable diseases, said officials are paying particularly close attention to the percentage of people evaluated who test positive for Covid-19.

He explained that at the beginning of this outbreak, the state was seeing 3% of people tested test positive, but as of Wednesday last week, that had increased to at least 7%. He said over one or two weeks, he would want to see the average stay consistently below 7%, as that would make it clear the numbers are trending down and thus the situation is improving.

Lindquist said officials would also want to see a clear Press Release Distribution Services In Seattle trend that shows the percentage of hospitalizations for people with corona-like illnesses and the number of deaths decreasing. These measures would offer a very clear indication about how much coronavirus is still in the community, he said. Although hospitalizations have been increasing, deaths have been staying fairly steady.

Given these current trends, how much time could it take the state to get to a point when it would seriously consider easing social distancing restrictions?

“I definitely would say it’s not days,” he told the Guardian. “It’s weeks to months. But again, if things turn around very quickly, we’re talking just a couple weeks.”

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