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Skagit County Public Health announced it is investigating a cluster of COVID-19 cases related to a meeting earlier this month, and the department’s health officer is urging people to stay home.

Eleven people who attended a meeting in early March in Skagit County have tested positive for COVID-19, and 32 attendees are showing symptoms and are considered probable cases, Skagit County Public Health Officer Howard Leibrand said in an interview Saturday afternoon.

Leibrand said Public Health has contacted all 56 individuals who attended the meeting and asked them to isolate or quarantine themselves and is notifying the close contacts of the attendees.

“Anybody who is a lab-confirmed case or probable case, we contact their contacts, so that’s 2 degrees of separation,” he said. “And if any of those contacts have symptoms, we then contact their contacts.”

He said even before the county started investigating the cluster of cases, many of the meeting’s attendees suspected what was going on.

“They were very pro-active about communicating between themselves and isolating themselves,” he said. “Half of our work had already been done.”

Leibrand said the county is not disclosing more information about the meeting, such as the location because it would not help further protect other residents.

“We don’t consider it necessary to warn other people because everyone at the meeting has been contacted by us,” he said. “It only invades their privacy.”

Leibrand said people need to assume that every person they come in contact with has COVID-19, or the surfaces they touch have the novel coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 illness.

As of Saturday afternoon, Public Health has reported 28 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Skagit County. That includes the 11 meeting attendees who tested positive, except one, who is a resident of Island County, he said.

“Likely the majority of probable cases will not be tested, because lack of availability of tests,” Leibrand said.

That means the actual number of COVID-19 cases in Skagit County is far greater than those that have been diagnosed.

He said people — especially young people who are less likely to become ill but may infect those who are more vulnerable — need to get serious about physically distancing themselves from others.

If stricter distancing measures aren’t taken and people continue infect each other, cases will overwhelm capacity of the area’s hospitals, and the death rate will increase, Leibrand said.

“If too many people are sick all at once, there will not be enough medical resources, including ventilators, to go around,” Public Health wrote in a news release. “The healthcare system is planning for surge capacity, but that plan is dependent on us staying home now.”

Leibrand said he has noticed not enough people are staying home, and that traffic patterns have not changed — an indicator used in King County on the effectiveness of social distancing measures.

“If you’re out there when you don’t have to be, you are potentially endangering yourself and everyone else,” he said.

As for supplies, Leibrand said he is not concerned in the short-term about masks. He said the county’s three hospitals received a shipment of many masks Thursday, and some local companies, including the refineries have donated masks, as well.

He said the bigger concern for the county is getting enough testing equipment, such as swabs.

— Reporter Jacqueline Allison: jallison@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2145, Twitter: @Jacqueline_SVH

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