Official: ‘We should probably all stop socializing’ 

 WHATCOM ­— Coronavirus cases have risen sharply in most of Washington in recent weeks, and state officials are urging people to make hard choices as the holidays approach.

  “We’re coming to you with an immediate sense of renewed urgency with what we are seeing as increased cases here,” state Secretary of Health John Wiesman said in a briefing with 10 other officials from Olympia Tuesday afternoon. “We are really concerned at this point with what we are seeing in the trends and believe that immediate action is needed now to flatten the curve.”

  According to data shown by state Health Officer Kathy Lofy at the briefing, the past two weeks have seen an accelerated growth over the past two weeks — especially in the populated Puget Sound region — which the state does not even have complete data on yet.

  It’s the highest number of cases the state has seen since the virus was first detected, and the counts are accelerating, Lofy said, while testing numbers have remained flat.

  “Daily tests have been flat,” she said. “This (rise) is not due to increased testing. This is a real increase in disease.”

 Lofy reported that hospitalizations have increased on both sides of the Cascades and the COVID-19 case counts are rising among all age groups. She said she is concerned that more hospitalizations will occur, leading to more deaths.

  “We’re really at a difficult time in this pandemic,” Lofy said. “We’re fatigued and we’ve already made a lot of sacrifices this year, but we cannot give up.”

  Lofy recommended wearing a mask and eliminating all contact with people outside of one’s immediate household.

  “We should probably all stop socializing for the next several weeks,” she said. “If you need to socialize, please limit your social contacts to no more than give people outside of your household per week, and keep your social interactions as short as possible.”

  At this point, if the state cannot change its current trajectory of disease via a change in behavior, actions that could potentially harm the state’s economy may need to be taken to curb the spread of COVID-19, Lofy said.

  Deputy Secretary of Health Lacy Fehrenbach stressed that Canada saw a sharp spike in COVID-19 cases following its Thanksgiving holiday in October.

  “We cannot afford this in Washington State. Any in-person gathering is risky right now,” Fehrenbach said. “The safest Thanksgiving is one celebrated only with the people in your extended household.”

  She emphasized that the holidays are not the time to ease up on preventative COVID-19 measures.

  “We know that folks are done with COVID and are looking forward to the holidays, but COVID is not done with us and it does not take holidays,” Fehrenbach said.