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King County health officer: Decreasing COVID-19 trends are ‘hopeful signs’

A fan watches batting practice before the game between the Seattle Mariners and the San Francisco Giants at T-Mobile Park on April 03, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

There seems to be hope on the horizon this week in terms of COVID-19 case and hospitalization trends in Washington, particularly in King County.

“This week’s forecast has unstable weather continuing with sunbreaks possible late in the week,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer with Public Health — Seattle & King County, about the local COVID-19 outlook in his weekly briefing on Friday.

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After about six weeks of increasing counts, the number of new COVID-19 cases in King County has decreased slightly by 5%, according to Duchin. The 14-day incidence rate is approximately 250 cases per 100,000 residents, which is similar to last week’s rate but almost double that of the end of the fall and winter surge in early March.

Since early March, case rates have been trending up for all age groups except those 65 or older, Duchin says, with the highest rates in those aged 18-24, followed by 25-49 year-olds and the 5-17 age group.

Over the past two weeks, those increasing rates have leveled off for most age groups, Duchin noted, except for the youngest age groups.

“This leveling off in case numbers and incidence rates are hopeful signs, although the immediate future direction remains uncertain,” he said.

In terms of hospitalizations, Dr. Duchin says the recent trend of more younger and middle aged adults being hospitalized for COVID-19 remains unchanged, though the overall risk of hospitalization remains highest for older adults. Over the past week, there has been a decrease in hospitalizations of 20% compared to the prior seven days, which Duchin referred to as a “welcome decrease” that he hopes is sustained. Currently, one King County resident is being hospitalized every hour and 26 minutes.

Deaths related to COVID-19 have remained relatively low in King County compared to the fall and winter surge, a number that Dr. Duchin says has been stable now for a few weeks.

Easier to get vaccinated than ever before

In King County, the COVID-19 vaccine supply has increased and it is now easier to get an appointment than ever. At most sites, no appointment is needed as many are now accepting walk-ups.

The county’s strategy has pivoted from a focus on mass vaccination sites to making vaccinations as convenient as possible for people, and to answer questions from those who may still be hesitant.

Dr. Duchin says it’s understandable that some people may still have questions or concerns, and that people should always have the opportunity to get their questions answered about any medical treatments before they choose to take them, including vaccines. He does recommend the vaccine for those who can get it, however, even for those who believe they are not at risk for severe illness.

As part of his support for the vaccine, Duchin points out that if you don’t get hospitalized for COVID-19, you can still get long-COVID, which he says is something you want to avoid. While the risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death increases with age, it can impact young age groups as well, Duchin said, and if you’re not concerned about being infected yourself, remember that you can spread it to others before you show symptoms.

On top of all that, there are people with weakened immune systems or, due to a variety of medical reasons, individuals who cannot get vaccinated, and they depend on others to get vaccinated to protect them and reduce the spread of the virus in the community.

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“Getting vaccinated is important not only for our own health, but for the health of our family members, friends, coworkers, and our community and economy,” Duchin said.

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