SEATTLE — King County public health leaders shared some new pandemic insights and recommendations Tuesday, flagging a steady rise in new COVID-19 cases across the region in recent weeks.
According to Public Health – Seattle & King County, the record omicron surge of winter kept up a steep decline through mid-March, before beginning to tick up as the more infectious BA.2 subvariant became dominant in Washington and around the United States.
While recent infections remain well below the January peak of 6,500 daily cases, public health data shows daily averages have roughly tripled since last month’s low point. On Monday, the agency’s online dashboard showed a 35 percent surge in case counts over the last week.
Here are a few more recent trends from Public Health – Seattle & King County:
- 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.
Health officials note the official data only captures a small portion of the real picture, particularly as more residents rely on at-home testing options over PCR testing sites.
“Our current case rate is very likely an undercount of the actual level of infection in our community right now,” officials wrote Tuesday. “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.”
While hospitalizations have begun to tick up, averaging six per day, public health officials said hospital admissions and deaths continue to be near their lowest pandemic levels. However, with early signs of another potential surge ahead, the county’s health officer is calling on residents to prepare and utilize layered protections — including seeking out a booster.
Though many residents infected during the omicron surge may have added immunity, vulnerable groups can still be at risk for serious illness.
Dr. Jeff Duchin wrote Tuesday:
“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.”
Health officials also reiterated the uncertainty posed by “long COVID,” which can occur even in mild cases, with some studies finding lingering effects reported in 10 to 30 percent of infections.
“There is much we don’t know about long COVID, including how best to diagnose and treat it,” officials wrote. “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.”
While Tuesday’s update did not hint at the return of any broad public health mandates, the health department shared a long list of recommended strategies to stay healthy should another surge take hold:
- 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.
Source: Bellevue Patch