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Bellevue modelers: King County progress in quelling outbreak ‘remains precarious’

Volunteers Keshia Link, left, and Dan Peterson unload boxes of donated gloves and alcohol wipes at UW. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The latest data from Bellevue’s Institute for Disease Modeling (IDM) points to recent progress in King County to slow its coronavirus outbreak, while warning that the situation “remains precarious.”

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The IDM’s most recent data indicates that King County may have reached a major milestone, with its effective reproductive number — a numerical value indicating the subsequent number of people one person with the virus would likely infect — dropping below 1.

With a slight margin of error on either side, IDM estimates King County’s effective reproductive number to now be around 0.94. That said, it also “predicts a rapid rise in the rate of cases that would likely exceed recent peak levels” if physical distancing measures are completely relaxed by May 1.

“We interpret these modeling scenarios to say that the situation in King County remains precarious and that further policy action in the coming weeks will dictate COVID outcomes for better or for worse,” the IDM stated in a summary of its most recent findings.

The IDM also cautions that “it is early in this outbreak, and we do not yet fully understand how reliable our proxies for measure the transmission rate are.” Because of that uncertainty, it recommends “further policy action before partially relaxing physical distancing numbers.”

In a scenario where “new strategies are added to current distancing measures,” it predicts that the county’s effective reproductive number could drop all the way down to 0.5.

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That includes a wide range of possible mitigation methods, including “tightened physical distancing recommendations, but also scaled up testing and contact-tracing strategies on top of current restrictions.”

“We are working to quantify trade-offs among strategies with different costs, feasibilities, and benefits, but decision-making under large uncertainty will be a persistent challenge during this pandemic,” the report reads.

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