An update on COVID-19: Q&A with Dr. Eric Chow, Chief of Communicable Disease Epidemiology 

COVID-19 in King County 

You may have heard reports recently of increases in cases of COVID-19 in many parts of the U.S. We talked with Public Health’s Chief of Communicable Disease Epidemiology, Dr. Eric Chow, about what’s happening with COVID-19 in King County right now. 

Question: Are we seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases in King County? 

Dr. Chow: Yes. Since the beginning of August 2023, we’ve started to see an increase in some COVID-19 metrics in King County, including COVID-19 emergency department visits and hospitalizations. Individual COVID-19 case counts have increased, as well, but on their own these are a less accurate metric because people are getting tested less. Also, at-home test results aren’t typically reported to us. 

Local rates of COVID-19 right now are lower than what we saw in previous COVID-19 surges. Public Health is watching the data closely to see whether the increase in recent weeks continues to rise.  

Question: Are you concerned about new COVID-19 variants, like ‘EG.5’?

Dr. Chow:  As of August 2023, the CDC is reporting that the newer EG.5 variant makes up about 20% of national COVID-19 cases, and that rate has been increasing. We’re watching COVID-19 variants locally, but we don’t have the same level of local data about variants as we did during the height of the pandemic. So it’s hard to know how much this variant is contributing to the increase in COVID-19 metrics locally. 

I’m always concerned about COVID-19 because we continue to see people develop new infections, experience severe illness, and develop long COVID. We don’t have evidence right now that the EG.5 variant causes more severe disease, which is good news. But, any time there’s a new COVID-19 variant, it means more people are at risk for infection from COVID-19, including severe illness and long-COVID. That’s because the new variants can better evade immunity from previous infections and some vaccines. The new COVID-19 booster is developed to cover recent variants and protect against other similar emerging variants.  

Question: Is a new COVID-19 booster going to be released?  

Dr. Chow: Yes! The latest information is that a new COVID-19 booster will be available in the fall. However, we don’t yet know the exact dates of release or which age groups the vaccine will be recommended for. This vaccine will be designed to target the recent circulating COVID-19 variants and will help provide the immune system additional protection against severe illness.   

Question: What kinds of preventative measures would you recommend right now, given we’re seeing an increase in COVID locally? 

Dr. Chow: While COVID-19 may no longer be front and center in everyone’s mind, we’ve learned some key actions that can help reduce risk of infection. Those actions continue to be extremely relevant. We’ve learned that it’s best not to wait for COVID-19 surges to take preventative steps, such as:   

  • Make sure you’re up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations, including the bivalent booster released last fall (September 2022) and the new COVID-19 booster we anticipate being released this fall.  
  • Wear a high-quality, well-fitting facemask (such as an N95 or KN95) in crowded indoor public spaces.   
  • Improve indoor air ventilation by opening windows and doors and using air filtration devices. 
  • Get tested promptly if you have symptoms of COVID-19 and getting treatment if you’re at high-risk.     

Question: If I’m not yet up to date on my COVID-19 boosters, should I wait to get any more COVID-19 shots until the new booster is released this fall?  

Answer: I know this can be a tricky decision because we don’t exactly know when this new booster will be available. My advice is that if  you haven’t gotten a booster in the last year – since the most recent booster was released in September of 2022 — it’s a good idea to go ahead and get your booster now. That’s because we know people are getting sick currently, and the booster will give you extra protection against current community infections until the new booster is out.  It’s better to be protected than play a waiting game—just hoping not to get infected. Information on how to get a free bivalent booster is available at   

Question: If I get a COVID-19 booster now, how long will I have to wait to get the new COVID booster when it’s released?  

Dr. Chow:  There is typically a time period that the CDC will recommend waiting between vaccines.  But, we don’t yet know what that time period will be between the current bivalent booster and the new booster in the fall.   

Question: Will this become like the flu shot, where there’s a new booster every year?  

Dr. Chow: Given that COVID-19 continues to produce new variants, the vaccine will have to be updated periodically. Updated vaccines ensure that they can target the current circulating variants. We don’t know how often new boosters will likely be released. But I think it’s safe to anticipate additional COVID-19 boosters released in the coming years so long as COVID is circulating in our communities. 

Question: What if I already had COVID this summer? Should I still get a bivalent booster, or should I just wait until the new booster comes out?  

Dr. Chow: You should check with your medical provider about the best timing of the booster after you have recovered from infection. They can help you decide when you should get up to date with vaccination based on your specific risks. The CDC states that if you recently had a COVID infection, you may consider delaying your vaccine by 3 months from when your symptoms started or, if you had no symptoms, then you may delay your vaccine by 3 months from your positive test.  

Question: Where can I go to get a booster? 

Dr. Chow: Lots of places! Call your medical provider or visit a local pharmacy (many offer COVID boosters and vaccines with no appointment needed).  In addition, Public Health and our community partners continue to hold COVID vaccination events throughout the community.

Visit for more information about where to get a COVID booster.  

For testing locations and recourses visit, 

Originally published August 23, 2023