Delta variant cases soar in Washington along with demand for COVID testing

Demand for COVID testing is seeing a major uptick for the first time in months. Many more people are testing positive for COVID too, with most of the cases caused by the Delta variant.

The surge in demand is also leading to slower turnaround for test results at some locations. The city of Seattle’s website says: “We are currently experiencing longer turnaround times than usual that will continue through the weekend. Expect results in 24-48 hours.”

KIRO7 reached out to UW Medicine and Kaiser Permanente, which both said they were not experiencing delays in turnaround time. However, Curative, the walk-up kiosk testing option that partners with the city, says it is experiencing slower test results.

Curative’s website says: “Please note that due to high sample volume, results may only be available 2 or more days after receipt at the lab.” Curative mails test swabs to be processed at a lab in Los Angeles.

UW Medicine and Kaiser Permanente both say more people experiencing symptoms are what’s driving up the surge in testing.

“Sore throat, cough,” said Michael Fernstrom, who was getting a test at the Sodo test site run by the Seattle Fire Department.  “Just in case it’s not a cold — stay safe and keep people healthy,” he said.

The tests from the Sodo site get processed at UW Medicine labs. Data from the virology labs show they were seeing about 50 positive cases daily at the end of June. But on Tuesday (July 20), the lab tested almost 300 positive cases (out of more than 6,500 tests).

Dr. Avantika Waring with Kaiser Permanente of Washington said they are seeing an increase in symptomatic testing requests by about 50%.

“We are definitely seeing more with the Delta variant,” Waring said.

Data from UW Virology shows what strains of COVID are making people sick. Between April and July, the Delta variant (in green) rapidly overtook all other variants, now accounting for 78% of cases in Washington for reporting counties.

The Delta variant made up 72.5% of cases in King County and 80.9% of cases in Snohomish County in the week of July 4th.

But there’s another reason for the spike in people wanting to get tested — masks have come off and other viruses are finding their way in.

“People are getting out more now so they’re catching common colds and other viruses and they want to rule out COVID,” said Capt. Duncan Jewell, with the Seattle Fire Department.

Dr. Waring said it’s tough to say if there’s one strain of a cold going around, or if people experiencing colds were just getting sick in the normal course of business.

“Now that people are taking their masks off and coming together, we’re going to see more transmission of the usual colds and things,” Waring said.

Doctors say they are keeping a close eye on trends with the Delta variant.

“Would you recommend people who are vaccinated still wear masks indoors?” KIRO7′s Deedee Sun asked Waring.

“While we’re still understanding what’s happening here, it would be prudent to keep your mask on while you’re indoors,” Waring said.

Positive cases are up to 4.3%, up from 1% about a month ago for tests performed at UW Virology labs in UW Medicine’s Department of Laboratory Medicine. In Eastern Washington like in Benton, Franklin, and Yakima counties, nearly 20% of cases come back positive.