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King County Health Officer says we might see a ‘tsunami’ of COVID cases

Medical laboratory scientist, Aniela Sobel, tests serology samples from the Novavax phase 3 Covid-19 clinical vaccine trial. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

Last week, King County residents learned they might be in the eye of a hurricane, as the number of positive COVID-19 cases continued to drop. This week, it’s the receding tide before an oncoming tsunami.

Dr. Jeff Duchin with Public Health — Seattle & King County thanked King County residents for taking precautions seriously. The result is dropping cases. However, he warned that we’re in the eye of a hurricane and a serious storm remains on the horizon.

Watch Dr. Duchin’s news conference here.

“The more contagious and possibly more severe B117 variant strain is here, as it is across most of the U.S.,” Duchin said. “And it is silently doubling at every 10 days. It is expected to become widespread in the next month or so as exponential growth accelerates.”

He said it means we’ll have to work harder and be better at COVID prevention against the variant to avoid a large fourth wave.

“I think we may be watching the tide silently recede before a tsunami,” Duchin said.

Currently, King County’s 7-day average is about 200 cases per day, Duchin said. The 14-day incident is at about 156 per 100,000, which is still considered high risk. About three people died every day last week. He said last week that the case and hospitalization rates are about three times higher in the South Sound — places like Burien, Federal Way, Auburn, and Seatac. That fact remains this week.

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Duchin recommended we focus on getting cases down and hospitalizations as low as we can before the variant erupts. He said now is the time to focus on wearing a snugly fit mask that has multiple layers. There should be no leaks around the side of the face, and the breath should go through the layers. Additionally, limiting activities, avoiding crowds, improving ventilation, and washing hands will help to slow the spread of the virus.

“Ultimately, getting enough of us vaccinated will be our most powerful weapon against COVID-19 over the long-term,” he said.

Washington state received 206,125 doses this week, which was an increase of about 50,000 doses from the previous week, according to Duchin. Providers in King County received over 78,000 of those doses, nearly double last week’s total. The majority of those doses received were second doses.

In total, Duchin said over 340,000 doses have been administered in King County, which is up 30,000 doses from last week. Over 260,000 residents have received their first dose, and over 80,000 residents are fully vaccinated.

President Biden announced Thursday that his administration purchased an additional 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and Moderna, increasing the national supply by 50%.

“These doses are not going to be delivered in the short term, but they will be available in the spring at some point, and the estimates now are that they’ll be able to vaccinate everyone who’s eligible or interested before the end of the summer,” Duchin explained.

The president said Thursday that Moderna and Pfizer have agreed to expedite 100 million doses by a month, moving their target date up from June to May. That’s on top of the doses that were already promised.

Duchin said they haven’t received any specific information about how Washington state’s allocation will change. He expects the quantity to increase gradually over time. He said in the coming weeks, the doses, even if there’s an increase, will go to first to people who need the second dose of the vaccine. Then they can focus on more rapidly giving people the first doses.

“That’s still going on, there are still people who can get first doses, but relatively fewer, given the fixed supply of vaccine we’re currently experiencing,” Duchin said.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Health said Friday that the 1 millionth dose of COVID vaccine was administered in Washington.

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