On Friday, March 26, King County health officer Dr. Jeffrey Duchin gave a sobering assessment of COVID cases in the region. Over the past two weeks, cases are up 43 percent over the two weeks prior. “I think there’s a good chance we’re looking at the beginning of a fourth wave,” Duchin said.
The warning comes days after Washington entered phase 3 on March 22, with indoor dining currently allowed at 50 percent capacity and table sizes increased up to 10, and still days before restaurant workers will be eligible to receive vaccines starting March 31. Per Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan, COVID cases must stay below 200 per 100,000 people over the previous two-week period, and hospitalizations below 5 per 100,000 people over the previous week in order for counties to remain in phase 3.
Right now, those metrics still meet the state’s criteria, but the concerning upward COVID trend Duchin cited Friday began weeks ago, before restaurants increased their capacity. If cases continue to rise, the county could face returning to more restrictive phases. The next evaluation is slated for April 12.
Duchin said he couldn’t predict how severe the wave would be, though. Thanks to an increased vaccination effort, cases and hospitalizations among those 75 years of age or older have plummeted; as such, COVID-related deaths in King County remain at a low level, and, though hospitalizations have increased over the past several weeks, those numbers are still one-sixth of what they were during the fall surge.
COVID cases have increased among younger people in King County, which was Duchin’s main concern, since it coincides with the circulation of more contagious and potentially more dangerous new variants. “It’s important to prevent COVID-19 in all ages,” he said, noting that some people who recovered COVID can still experience debilitating symptoms for months.
As has been the advice throughout the pandemic, he urged residents to limit activities with unvaccinated people, wear masks, and avoid crowded indoor spaces. The Center for Disease Control also urges those who are already vaccinated to still take precautions, including wearing masks, avoiding medium- and large-sized gatherings, and physical distancing in public spaces.
Over 600,000 King County residents have received vaccines; 33 percent have received at least one dose, and 18 percent are fully vaccinated. The inoculation effort locally has been moving steadily apace, with Lumen Field opening as a vaccination site that can deliver up to 150,000 shots per week operating at full capacity. But restaurant workers still have to wait until Wednesday before they’re able to sign up for vaccination appointments, a delay that has frustrated those in the industry. As the recent rise in COVID cases highlights, there’s no time to waste.