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Here's where COVID-19 outbreaks are coming from in Washington state

Data shows restaurants are the biggest culprit this year as a whole, but recent COVID-19 outbreaks in Washington state are more spread out.

SPOKANE, Wash — With coronavirus case numbers surging in both Spokane County and Washington state, the big question for many people is: Where are these outbreaks coming from?

It's an important question if you want to identify settings that need careful scrutiny and restriction and the Washington Department of Health publishes a weekly report that answers it.

Before diving into that data, though, it's important to define an "outbreak." Many coronavirus cases are not tied to outbreaks and are instead related to more randomized community spread.

But the outbreaks are a big concern, which is why the state attempts to track them. The following is criteria that defines an outbreak. 

First, there have to be at least two people who have tested positive for COVID-19. Second, the symptoms of those sick people need to have started within two weeks of each other. Third, there needs to be strong evidence they passed the virus to each other in a setting other than within the same household.

Essentially, if multiple people get sick at the same time and were in the same place, that could constitute an outbreak.

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Over the course of the whole pandemic, restaurants and food service are by far the number one source of outbreaks, with 151 reported to date.

Corporate agriculture is number two with 110, followed by construction at 106 and childcare at 91.

The report is published weekly and the most recent report covers specifically the first week of November. It's important to note that data may change later as more information is reported back to the state by local health districts.

So far, there have been 19 outbreaks identified in Washington state from the first week of November. 

The biggest culprit was childcare facilities, with four. Construction, colleges, offices and the military each accounted for 2 outbreaks. Several other settings had one outbreak apiece.

Restaurants were only tied to one outbreak, according to the report, and private events were tied to none. But again, outbreaks aren't always easy to track and can take some time to identify.

This specific data purposefully excludes outbreaks from long-term care facilities like nursing homes. There have been more than 1,000 of these outbreaks this year.