Health officer says people with COVID-19 but no symptoms are spreading the virus in Chelan and Douglas counties


Chelan-Douglas Health Officer Dr. Malcolm Butler warns there is a “storm brewing on the horizon” when it comes to COVID-19 in the Wenatchee Valley.

In a live Q&A session Wednesday on Facebook and Zoom hosted by the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center, Butler said reopening the economy in the two counties has led to a boost in positive tests.

A large part of that increase is because people with the virus but no symptoms are active in the community.

But at the same time fewer people are dying from the virus, or being hospitalized, he said.

In fact, the second wave of cases is largely hitting young people, who tolerate it well, Butler said.

Meanwhile, vulnerable populations, like seniors and people with health conditions, seem to be protecting themselves well.

It has been several weeks since a COVID-related death in the two counties and there are currently no residents hospitalized.

But the recent surge in positive tests mean it is unlikely Chelan and Douglas counties will be able to open up more in the near future, he said.

Still the Chelan-Douglas Health District is preparing paperwork so they’ll be ready to apply for the next phase of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start reopening plan when the numbers improve, Butler said.

But Inslee announced Thursday there will be a two-week pause in any county being moved up in its phase of reopening.

Among the issues addressed by Butler:

Is COVID 19 any worse than seasonal flu?

Seasonal flu can be treated with medicine and prevented with a vaccine, Butler said.

“In influenza people have symptoms,” Butler said. “I think it’s like 10 percent of people with influenza do not have symptoms. … Thirty-three percent of people are asymptomatic with COVID-19. That means if you stay home when you feel sick, you’ll still be wrong a third of the time and that’s just not the same in the flu.”

In addition, COVID-19 appears to be 10-times as infections as influenza, he said.

He said the death rate from COVID-19 is “way, way, way worse” than influenza.

Is the virus acting different in different areas?

For some reason, COVID-19 in Eastern Washington looks very different that what has been seen in Western Washington, Butler said.

“I don’t know exactly why. I don’t know if that’s urban versus rural, or cold versus hot, or agricultural versus non-agricultural but it’s different in the ways it moves through communities.”

So, he said, we’re no longer at a point where a one-size-fits-all plan for dealing with the virus works in the state.

“I think it makes more sense to tailor things individually,” Butler said.

The state seemed to recognize that when it approved Chelan and Douglas to move to a modified Phase 1 despite not meeting some of the guidelines that had been established to move up, he said.