With November over, it's clear Skagit County experienced its worst month yet of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to county data, 758 residents tested positive last month — more than one third of the county's total number of recorded cases since the pandemic began — and there's no indication this spread is slowing down, said county Health Officer Howard Leibrand.
November was dramatically worse than the prior spike in July, when 264 new cases were reported.
Hospitalizations continue to climb as well, as 142 now have required hospital stays, with 36 of those added in November. Three more residents died from COVID-19 in November, bringing the total to 27.
Leibrand said these numbers exceed his fears for this spike.
He said the county has had more than 300 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past 14 days, easily the highest that metric has been.
"That's amazingly high, and it means we have to do something different," Leibrand said.
What's driving this spike is continued failure to follow public health guidelines, he said. People are gathering indoors, without masks or distancing, and in groups too large to be safe.
The difference now, versus earlier in the pandemic, is that the number of infected people is so high that it's unlikely that gatherings won't lead to the spread of the virus, he said.
"It ups the ante hugely," he said. "You can't move through the community without seeing someone who is positive."
While news on the progress of vaccines is encouraging, Leibrand said the public must keep wearing masks, keep at least 6 feet apart and avoid gathering with those who live outside their household.
"We need to continue to be cautious as we await a vaccine," he said.
Even as the vaccine is distributed, which Leibrand said could begin in a slow rollout this month, the public will need to keep following guidelines until it is clear the vaccine is effective in the long run.
The county's new drive-thru testing site at the Skagit County Fairgrounds in Mount Vernon has regularly tested about 250 people per day, far lower than its busiest days at the old location.
This is in part because county Public Health has urged those who don't have symptoms and haven't been exposed to avoid getting tested in order to preserve resources for those who are more likely to have COVID-19, said county spokesperson Laura Han.
Also, Han said that when some who arrive at site learn that results take five to seven days to come back due to overloaded testing labs they are deciding the wait isn't worth it.
Leibrand said the county could test more people if it speeded up the process at the site, and said it is looking for ways to make that happen.