Omicron Carries King County COVID Cases To New Record High

SEATTLE — The highly infectious omicron variant is fueling another record surge in coronavirus cases across King County, and daily infections have again reached their highest point of the pandemic, according to new public health data.

Public Health – Seattle & King County updated its official COVID-19 metrics for the first time since the holidays on Monday, confirming a 195 percent increase in positive cases over the last seven days and adding 7,789 positive test results since Dec. 23. The latest totals are in line with earlier projections from the health department and warnings from officials that another record surge of cases was likely before the end of the year.

As The Seattle Times reports, King County reported 2,249 COVID-19 cases on Thursday alone, a figure more than triple the previous, delta-fueled peak. According to UW Medicine, which operates several testing sites across the region, the positivity rate for tests performed on Christmas Eve was 13 percent — another all-time high.

With most hospitals across the region already at or near capacity, King County health officials are also concerned that such a rapid increase in cases could have significant impacts on the already-fragile health care system. King County recorded 78 new COVID-19 hospitalizations between Dec. 23 and Monday, representing a 58 percent spike over the last seven days.

(Public Health – Seattle & King County)

“[A]ny increase in hospitalization rates or hospital utilization will be pretty challenging for us and highly concerning,” said Dr. Santiago Neme, a medical director at UW Medicine, last week. “Any COVID infection in a health care professional, even though it might be mild, takes that person offline and therefore cannot work. It’s never been a better time to get a booster and really follow the guidelines.”

While omicron has shown to be more effective at breakthrough cases than the previously dominant delta, getting fully vaccinated and boosted continues to provide strong protection against severe outcomes, including hospitalizations and death.

So far, deaths have continued on a downward trend, currently averaging one per day, with three reported since Dec. 23.

“The biggest risk from this rapid spread of omicron is for those who are unvaccinated,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, King County’s health officer, earlier this month. “Vaccination and boosters will protect many people from severe illness, given our relatively high rates of vaccine coverage in King County. But with this fast surge, we could see a rapid increase in serious cases in unvaccinated people as well as an increase in less-severe breakthrough cases.”

Health officials continue to encourage layered precautions, beyond vaccination, to help limit the scope of the latest surge, including limiting the number of gatherings, postponing trips when possible, ensuring masks are well-made and avoiding crowded indoor spaces. Testing is another crucial element, both to reduce further spread and help local health authorities learn which areas are being hit hardest by new infections.

Recent weather limited some testing options Monday, including closures at county-run sites in Renton, Federal Way and Enumclaw. However, several testing and vaccination sites were able to open, including a few operated by UW Medicine.

Learn more about managing risk during the omicron surge via the Public Health Insider blog. Residents can find hours and appointments for testing sites on King County and UW Medicine‘s websites.

Source: Bellevue Patch