The virus hasn’t let up and we can’t either

Today, King County was approved for Phase 2 of the Governor’s Safe Start plan. Phase 2 allows for twice the capacity in retail, restaurants, and other businesses previously allowed in King County’s modified Phase 1 and goes into effect immediately.

There are several new things that we can do in Phase 2.

  • We can now enjoy eating out a favorite restaurant—and it will be roomy because capacity is limited to 50%.
  • You can shop more easily to get what you need at a clothing store.
  • You can gather with up to five favorites once a week. For example, you can invite five or fewer friends over to your home once a week. (That number six on your list should be on your B team and will have to come over the following week). In reality, there isn’t one perfect magic number, but if we all follow these general practices, we will be in a better spot to slow the spread of disease.

And, remember how this disease spreads—mostly person to person, by respiratory droplets released when an infected person talks, coughs, or sneezes. So, when you gather, it’s better to be outside. Keep your distance–at least 6 feet away. Be diligent that you and your friends and family are washing hands. And wear those masks when in public.  And remember, just because you can do something doesn’t mean it’s risk free or a good idea for your personal circumstances. Adults 60 and older and those with underlying health conditions remain at especially high risk for severe disease and they and their families should continue to take extra precautions.

Now that we are cautiously moving to the next phase, what should we expect?
As we reopen and get back to work and other activities in the community, there will be more opportunities for COVID-19 to spread, leading to an increase in cases. That is why it is even more important to do everything we can as individuals and in workplaces, businesses, recreational and social settings to prevent COVID-19 transmission.

This means both understanding the risk and taking steps to decrease the risk.  For example, closer contact is higher risk than maintaining 6 feet of distance, longer duration interactions are higher risk than shorter ones, outdoors is lower risk than indoors, and well-ventilated indoor spaces are lower risk than poorly ventilated ones.

Can we move forward safely even with an increase in cases? 
We can, within limits. Just this week, Public Health has seen an increase in the number of new cases reported. Between June 12 to June 18, there were 113 more cases compared to the previous 7 days, a 47% increase. Recent cases are from all areas of the county, with the largest cases in young adults and Seattle residents. At this point, no specific venue or risk factor has been identified as a cause of the increase. 

At this time, we are not seeing increasing trends in hospitalizations and we don’t know if the recent increase in cases will subside, be sustained, or further increase potentially causing significant stress on the healthcare system in coming weeks or months. In order to minimize the risk of a continued increase in COVID-19, we all need to do everything we can to prevent its spread in all aspects of our lives including at the workplace, at leisure and during other activities in the community.

Public Health will continue to monitor trends in cases and our healthcare system’s status. We will look for signals that may interfere with our ability to move forward safely or require additional measures to interrupt the spread of COVID-19. 

The impact of testing on the rise in cases: Over the past several weeks, we’ve seen an increase in the number of people getting tested for COVID-19. This is a very important step in reducing transmission; we want to encourage people with mild symptoms or those with close contact to a known case to continue to get tested at the very first sign of even mild illness. That way people can remove themselves from settings where they can transmit COVID-19 to others. Increasing access to testing may be contributing to the increase in reported cases and we will continue to evaluate this relationship.

“We should all be concerned with increasing cases of COVID-19 in our community. The disease is waiting for us to let our guard down, and it will come roaring back when we do.” – Dr. Jeff Duchin, Public Health – Seattle & King County “We are dependent on one another in order to move forward safely with continued activity.  It’s essential that we continue to maintain 6 feet of separation, use cloth face coverings when in public and when distancing is not possible, wash hands or sanitize frequently, and stay home when you are ill.”

LISTEN: 6.19.20 Press briefing on Phase 2 with Dr. Jeff Duchin

Updated June 19, 2020