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King County health officer: It’d be ‘reckless’ to not mitigate against COVID variant

COVID-19 cases are continuing on a steady path downward in King County, but Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin is warning residents to remain vigilant, especially as a more infectious variant strain becomes more and more prevalent.

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Dr. Duchin laid out the latest numbers Friday as part of a weekly briefing from Seattle-King County Public Health, noting that it’s “a tremendous relief to see these numbers continue to fall over the past several weeks.”

Overall, that decline has the county roughly 80% of the way back to where it was in September, prior to a fall and winter surge in cases, something Duchin credits to people successfully limiting group activities, wearing masks, and taking other necessary precautions. Despite that, though, he’s worried that the B.1.1.7 variant strain first discovered in the United Kingdom could lead to a rebound if we’re not careful.

“It’s critical not to become overconfident and complacent, because although we’ve slowed it, there’s plenty of virus out there, and plenty of opportunities for it to spread still,” Dr. Duchin warned. “Although total cases are decreasing currently, the proportion of cases due to the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant continues to grow, and that proportion doubles approximately every 10 days.”

He expects that by “sometime in March,” the variant will account for more than half of the strains of the virus circulating in King County. That’s an eventuality he believes the region needs to prepare for accordingly, especially if the state is to avoid a fourth wave of rising cases.

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“It would be reckless not to be more careful and more effective in our prevention measures against a stronger virus,” he said, noting that in the days and weeks to come, he remains worried that it will be “more difficult to maintain the same level of control as the new variant becomes prevalent.”

That’s not to say that he’s not also encouraged by the fact that cases have declined over the last month.

“I think we’re in a good place compared to where we were a month ago, a very good place — I think our trajectory is excellent,” Duchin said. “But I have a lot of respect for this virus, and I have even more respect for the new variant and to the threat it poses.”

In order to keep King County on that positive trajectory, people will need to continue to take precautions against the virus, lest we let our collective focus slip.

“We can do it if we put our minds to it,” he said. “But I’m very concerned about the potential of a rebound outbreak when the variant becomes more prevalent, especially if people begin to relax their COVID-19 prevention behaviors.”

“We have two enemies now: the virus and complacency,” Duchin added.

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