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Analysis: Washington could ease social distancing guidelines by May 18

Social distancing could be relaxed by mid-May in Washington state with the proper strategies set in place, according to the latest data.

SEATTLE — Under a prediction from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, Washington state could consider easing social distancing guidelines the week of May 18.

This is based on the state reaching a threshold of one COVID-19 infection per 1 million people, which IHME said was a "conservative estimate" for the number of infections each location would reasonably be able to identify to prevent coronavirus from resurging.

The prediction assumes Washington stays on the same epidemic trajectory and keeps its current containment strategies in place, including testing, contact tracing and mass gathering restrictions.

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According to the data, Washington state may have already seen the peak of the pandemic on April 6. Forty-two people died from coronavirus that day.

Since then, the state has seen a decline in coronavirus-related deaths, with the exception of a few spikes - including one on April 14, when 25 people died. 

The latest prediction shows the number of deaths per day being as low as zero or 1 by May 8. 

State-by-state analysis from IHME finds that while some states could begin relaxing social distancing rules as early as May 4, others may have to wait until after the week of June 8.

Public health experts have said coronavirus testing would need to double or possibly even triple to allow even a partial reopening of America's economy.

Gov. Jay Inslee's stay home order currently extends to May 4. However, he has not ruled out that it could be extended further. 

Citing previous models by the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and the Institute for Disease Modeling in Bellevue, he said the data show that social distancing is working, but needs to continue.

"The rate is not going down at the moment. It’s plateaued. It’s level. That’s not as good as we need. Because it means we’ll continue to experience the number of fatalities we are having today," he said. "This model suggests we need to do more."

Health experts say that relaxing social distancing too early could bring a large second wave of cases in Washington  

Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health — Seattle & King County, wrote in a blog post last week that a rebound in COVID-19 cases could “overwhelm the healthcare system” if we end social distancing too soon. 

As of Sunday, April 19, a total of 634 people died due to coronavirus There have been 11,790 total cases in the state.

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