Future of pandemic in King County remains uncertain in months to come
With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations at the highest level they’ve ever been over the course of the pandemic in Washington, local health officials remain uncertain as to what the path ahead may look like in terms of fully quelling the virus.
Following a surge in cases brought on by the highly-infectious delta variant, cases in King County have begun to plateau, according to health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin. That has him “cautiously optimistic,” albeit with a few caveats.
“I don’t think this is going to be the end of COVID-19 for us even if we get over this hump,” he said in a recent briefing. “I can’t tell you with certainty whether our plateau in cases is going to be sustained — it’s certainly at an unacceptably high level of disease transmission currently.”
Moving forward, he cites a combination of factors that make the situation difficult to predict. That includes the imminent return of students to in-person learning, upcoming holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, and a winter season that will drive people back indoors.
Combined with the fact that nearly half of the state’s total population remains unvaccinated, Duchin warns of the potential for additional fluctuations in COVID transmission.
“I’m very concerned that we may see progressive surges, peaks, declines, and then further surges,” he noted. “We’ve got future opportunities for people to gather, and until more of us are vaccinated we won’t be in the clear enough to fully relax.”
Given that, he once again emphasized the need for people to get vaccinated as quickly as possible, pointing to massive increases in cases and hospitalizations among the unvaccinated population, both in King County and statewide.
Between early April and mid-August, the age-adjusted daily rate of hospitalized COVID-19 cases in King County increased from 1.0 to 7.3 among the unvaccinated. Among those who were fully vaccinated, that rate saw no appreciable increase over that period.
Should vaccinations not increase enough to stem the tide, Duchin isn’t ruling out a return to virtual learning for students.
“I think it’s important to understand the uncertainty around what we may experience once children come back to school,” he cautioned. “This really emphasizes the need to take all protective measures, and to be prepared if necessary to go back to remote learning if we find out that there’s too much transmission in a school setting.”