With cases slowly but steadily rising over the past month in our region, we’re taking a closer look at what we know about the state of the pandemic locally. The bottom line is that although ongoing ups and downs in COVID-19 activity are likely, it’s best not to become infected and there are effective ways to reduce our risk.
Here’s a brief look at the current COVID-19 situation in King County and recommended strategies for anyone who wants to reduce their risk for COVID-19 and long COVID, especially people at higher risk for severe infection.
A brief overview from our local data
Cases are rising slowly but steadily over the past month. In our region, the Omicron surge rose rapidly in December and peaked in early January. A steep decline followed, hitting a low point in mid-March. Since that time, cases have started to rise again more slowly, but are much lower than the peak we saw in January.
To put our current number of cases in perspective, at the peak of the Omicron surge, we were seeing an average of 6,500 new cases reported daily.
Currently, we’re seeing an average of 484 new cases each day. That’s about three times the number of cases reported at the low point we experienced a month ago, but 7% of the number at the Omicron peak.
- All age groups are seeing some increase in cases, but the biggest increase is among young adults 18-35 years of age, followed by those 30-49. Rates are lowest among those 65 and older and children.
- Rates are also currently higher in Seattle and the east side of the County.
- We are seeing increases across all racial and ethnic groups. Currently, highest rates are among Asian-American residents, American–Indian and Alaskan Native, and White residents.
Our current case rate is very likely an undercount of the actual level of infection in our community right now. While reported case numbers have always represented a fraction of cases in the community, the current data may be more of an underestimate at this stage in the pandemic as more rapid at-home tests are used and not often reported.
Hospitalizations and deaths
Deaths and hospitalizations currently are comparable to the lowest levels we’ve seen during the pandemic.
Since the low point of mid-March, hospitalizations remain low and comparable to pre-Delta surge in June 2021. When there are small numbers, percentage increases may look large, so it’s important to look at the actual numbers of hospitalizations, which have been stable over the past month at 4-6 hospitalizations daily.
- Hospitalizations among those 65 and older make up nearly half of all hospitalizations, with the unvaccinated at highest risk.
- Deaths continue to decrease from the Omicron peak and remain low, with less than one death per day over the past 7 days. This is the lowest number of deaths since last summer.
- The majority of deaths continue to be among those 65 and older.
Although our current case and hospitalization numbers put King County in the LOW COVID Community level, it’s important to be aware of increasing COVID-19 trends locally and take steps now to prevent further increases and reduce cases as much as possible, without adding any new mandates or restrictions on our activities. (Note that there may be differences at any given time in how CDC reports the COVID-19 Communtiy Level compared to our local data.)
Our community protection
A key reason there are currently fewer hospitalizations and deaths than previously in the pandemic is because so many King County residents have been vaccinated and boosted.
- Eighty-five percent of King County residents ages 5 and older have completed their vaccination series.
- Among those who are eligible, 59% have received a booster dose.
- And over 70% of people 50 years and older have received a booster, which provides the best protection against hospitalization and death.
There is also some additional protection from immunity after recent infections that happened during the Omicron surge.
People who remain at highest risk are those who are unvaccinated or not boosted, people who have weakened immune systems or other underlying high-risk health conditions, and older adults. Learn about the best vaccine schedule for you if you are high risk or underlying health conditions.
People who are eligible for a booster but have not received it are at higher risk for infection, hospitalization and death when cases rise. And booster dose uptake in King County differs by race and ethnicity, age, and neighborhood.
“We could see a rise in cases that could last for several weeks, and although I don’t expect the extent of the rise or the number of associated hospitalizations and deaths to be as severe as our recent wintertime Omicron surge, if cases do surge, we could see a rise in hospitalizations and deaths among the vulnerable. We are especially concerned about low booster rates and disparities in booster coverage by race/ethnicity. Low booster coverage could lead to perpetuating the disproportionate impact the COVID-19 pandemic has already had on some communities of color. We continue to work with our teams to conduct outreach to communities that have not yet been boosted.”Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer, Public Health – Seattle & King County
Systemic and structural inequities shape who first has access to vaccines and who has more barriers to getting vaccinated. To address these inequities, Public Health – Seattle & King County set goals to provide equitable access to vaccine by focusing on communities that are at highest risk for COVID, live in areas that have had the most cases and face the most barriers to vaccination. Partnerships with community and outreach have been instrumental in increasing vaccination.
Long COVID is on our minds
Long COVID (also called post-COVID conditions) is a complication of COVID-19 infection that has been reported to occur in 10-30% of cases, more often in severe cases, but also can occur in less severe and even mild cases. Vaccination decreases the risk for developing long COVID.
There is much we don’t know about long COVID, including how best to diagnose and treat it. Many people recover after several weeks to months. However, even among young, healthy people, long COVID can be serious and longer lasting, affecting the brain and nervous system, heart, lungs, and other organs; COVID-19 can also increase the risk for developing diabetes. Difficulty thinking, weakness and other symptoms can make it difficult or impossible to work or do other activities of daily living.
To decrease your risk for COVID-19, including long COVID, proven prevention strategies can make a big difference.
Recommended prevention strategies for our current stage of the pandemic
The following strategies are recommended. These strategies should be used in combination and are especially important for people at high risk for severe COVID-19, people who are in contact with people at high risk, and anyone who wants to reduce their risk for COVID-19.
- Most important: Be sure you are up to date on all recommended COVID-19 vaccine doses – get boosters doses when you are eligible for the best protection, especially against severe disease.
- Pay attention to improving indoor air quality through increasing ventilation or use of HEPA filters and other strategies.
- Ask about out what is being done to improve indoor air in places where you spend time. If the air seems stuffy, ventilation may not be good. Look for open windows and doors.
- Choose outdoor activities and dining when possible.
- Information about improving indoor air quality is available on Public Health’s website. The EPA also recently released guidance to help businesses improve indoor air quality.
- Right now, it’s a good idea to wear a high-quality (N95, KN95, KF94) and well-fitting face mask in crowded indoor spaces. A high-quality mask can reduce your risk of infection where risk is greatest such as at an indoor event in a setting with poor ventilation. This is especially important for people who are immunocompromised or unvaccinated and people who are not up to date with their vaccinations (including booster doses).
- Consider testing before indoor group gatherings, especially if high-risk people are present.
- Test and isolate if symptoms develop or you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19.
- If you’ve had COVID-19, and your fever is gone and symptoms improving, consider testing if you are leaving isolation before day 10. And please, remember to continue to wear a well-fitting mask through day 10.
While we can’t predict the future course of the pandemic, including whether or how much cases will continue to rise or when they may fall, we know preventing cases through layered prevention strategies can help individuals stay safe and healthy and decrease the risk for surges.
- Who can get a booster
- Information about long COVID
- Public Health Information about masks, including where they are still required
- Ending isolation after you’ve had COVID
Originally published April 12, 2022.