King County Health Officer: Drop in COVID cases the ‘eye of the hurricane’
While cases of COVID-19 have continued to drop since the holidays, health officials in King County are warning that the emergence of a variant and lackadaisical behavior could quickly send us all backwards.
Dr. Jeff Duchin with Public Health – Seattle & King County said Friday that the county has seen a drop in case numbers for the past several weeks, but the seven-day rate is still over 200 per 100,000. That’s seven times the amount in June, and three to four times the amount we saw in September.
“Approximately two people died each day last week. This is down from 8-9 a day during December,” Duchin said.
He pointed out that areas of South King County are seeing higher case rates as compared to other areas in the county. Kent, Auburn, Federal Way, followed by Burien, Tukwila, and Sea-Tac have approximately three times the case rate as central Seattle. The hospitalization and death rates are also three to four times higher in those areas.
Fewer people have been seeking out testing since the holidays, but Duchin says testing is an important tool in preventing the spread of COVID to others.
As for the variant, Duchin says studies from other countries suggest that it’s doubling every week. He said small case numbers of the variant may go unnoticed for awhile, but the numbers can get big really fast.
“I feel that we’re in the eye of a hurricane and I want to remind everyone that we should expect the variant strain to become widespread here,” Duchin said. “And that it will make our outbreak much harder to control.”
He said that we need to remember that as we increase our activities, it increases the opportunity for the virus to spread. He recommended using the same strategies we’ve been hearing: mask up, wash your hands, spread out, and increase ventilation indoors. But we have to improve our consistency.
“The bottom line is these variants represent a game changer,” Duchin said. “They’re faster and more dangerous.”
Duchin congratulated the Seattle Seahawks for being the only NFL team to not report any positive COVID cases before warning NFL fans to be careful this weekend while watching the Super Bowl.
“Ventilation is important,” Duchin said. “The best Super Bowl advice is, please, don’t gather indoors with non-household members or everyone risks ending up on the injured list of COVID-19. If you do watch with others, make sure to open windows and increase ventilation, and wear masks. Eat outside. Outside is always safer than inside. And remember, just eating and speaking puts the virus into the air. … Up to half of COVID-19 infection spreads from people who look and feel well. They don’t know they have COVID-19 and they don’t appear to have symptoms.”
Duchin said if ventilation is poor, the virus can build up in the room like cigarette smoke. Singing, speaking loudly, and shouting could add even more virus to the room.
“Try to limit loud cheering, especially for Tampa Bay,” Duchin said.
Duchin said vaccine allocation in King County remains stable, but it’s not enough. Washington state is receiving less than a third of what health care providers are requesting. It only received 107,000 first doses this week and there’s an increased demand for second doses.
For perspective, Duchin explained that this week, King County received just over 43,000 doses, and half of those were allocated for first doses. At the end of January, 300 health care providers were enrolled in vaccine programs. This week, only 25% of those providers received an allocation of doses.
King County has administered close to 300,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine as of Thursday, according to Duchin. Of those, 232,000 people (13% of King County’s population) have received the first dose, and 60,000 people have been fully vaccinated with both doses. Among those, about two thirds of the county’s eligible health care workers in Phase 1A have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Duchin said they’ve administered at least one dose of the vaccine to almost 40% of King County’s population that is 75 or older, adding that that age group is 200 to 600 times more at risk of death compared to 18-29 age group. They’ve vaccinated over a third of those between 65-74 years old with at least one dose. That age group is at least 90 times at higher risk of death than 18-29 year-olds.
As for the breakdown of race and ethnicity, Duchin said those who’ve received a dose of COVID vaccine are 10% who identify as white, 8% who identify as Asian, 5% who identify as Black, and 4% who identify as Hispanic.
“The impact of this outbreak as disproportionately hard for people of color,” Duchin said.
King County updates a demographic dashboard to study the breakout.
Appointments at the two mass vaccination sites the county opened on Feb. 1 in Kent and Auburn are booked through February, according to Duchin. The county is also running eight mobile units to vaccinate high-risk populations, in partnership with regional fire departments. They hope to get two more mobile units soon.
Watch Dr. Duchin’s latest update on COVID-19 in King County here.