Rising COVID cases push King County to “medium” levels, sparking renewed warnings

SEATTLE — COVID cases are again on the rise in King County. It’s pushed King County from the “green” to the “yellow” zone – meaning the county is back in the CDC’s medium COVID-19 community level.

It takes more than 200 new cases per 100,000 people to be in that medium range.

Currently, King County is seeing about 500 cases per day, which is triple the low seen a few weeks ago, but still falls far short of the 6,500 cases per day the county saw during the omicron peak in January.

Still, the relatively small surge in cases has Public Health Seattle-King County urging caution.

“All ages are trending up recently, but the highest rates continue to be in young adults,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, King County’s public health officer. “We should see this yellow traffic lights as a slow-down and use this opportunity to lower our risk,” he said during a press Zoom session that was live-streamed on Facebook Monday.

Dr. Duchin emphasized that hospitalizations and deaths are still holding steady at a low level, despite the spike in cases. He said that’s why there are no new mandates or formal recommendations.

However, Dr. Duchin is urging people to consider wearing a mask in crowded indoor spaces, and taking a COVID test before large indoor events – particularly if there will be high-risk people present.

“COVID-19 is not going away. It’s going to be a long-term challenge for us, and there will always be some level of transmission out there, at least for the near future. We need to find ways to coexist that are sustainable,” Dr. Duchin said.

Public Health data show hospitalizations are up slightly, but Dr. Duchin said the overall numbers are low enough that it is still considered stable. The breakdown showed that hospitalizations and deaths are still the highest in South King County, which includes Auburn, Kent, and Federal Way.

Fifteen people were hospitalized in the two weeks from April 7 to April 21 in South King County, and 11 people were hospitalized in South East King County, giving this area the highest hospitalization rate (4.4 and 7.9 per 100,000 people, respectively).

Five people died in South King County (Auburn, Kent, and Federal Way) in that same time period, more than any other region of the county. For adults eligible for the booster shot, South King County also saw the lowest levels of participation. Only 36% of those in the 35-49 year-old age group received the booster, compared to 60-69% for most other areas of the county.

“As has been true throughout much of our pandemic, neighborhoods in South King County and our BIPOC communities are hardest hit,” Dr. Duchin said.

However, Dr. Duchin said the data show the highest number of cases are in North Seattle and East King County.

He is also reminding people that long COVID complications could impact even people who don’t become severely ill.

“Long COVID might occur in 10-30 percent of cases, and can cause long-lasting fatigue, difficulty thinking, and heart and lung problems that make it difficult or impossible to work or do normal activities,” Dr. Duchin said. “It can happen even with mild cases,” he said.

Dr. Duchin has shared more advice about the latest spike in cases on the Public Health Insider blog, and also recommended long-term risk mitigation like proper ventilation and air filtration for businesses.