Daily case counts soared to 6,467 on Jan. 10, and over the last week have averaged 226 in King County. COVID-19 hospitalizations, which hit 60 in a single day at the height of omicron, have fallen to six per day, helping hospitals recover some capacity and start to make headway in providing deferred care from the last few months.
“At this time, hospitals are beginning to treat a large backlog of patients whose procedures and surgeries were delayed when hospitals were overloaded during the omicron outbreak,” Duchin said. “Ongoing staffing concerns and high volumes of patients continue to challenge our health care system, however.”
Duchin said King County’s seven-day case rate sits at 70 per 100,000 residents, which is comfortably within the low bracket in CDC’s updated community transmission framework. COVID-19 patients now account for 5 percent of hospital beds, down from the peak of 21 percent, and deaths have declined 55 percent since peaking in early February.
(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
“Our numbers place us in the low community level, well below the cutoffs for medium or high level,” Duchin said. “At this level, CDC does not recommend universal indoor masking but does recommend vaccination, enhancing ventilation, COVID-19 testing, isolation, quarantine, and that immunocompromised persons have a plan with their health care provider for rapid testing and treatment if necessary.”
With all COVID-19 metrics continuing to fall, state and county officials say they are comfortable with removing broad masking requirements Saturday but note some may choose to continue wearing masks based on their personal needs, particularly in crowded or poorly ventilated spaces.
“This does not mean that COVID-19 is over,” Duchin said. “It does not mean that COVID-19 is no longer a problem, and it remains very reasonable for individuals to make the choice to continue to mask indoor settings, based on their personal risk assessment and preferences.”
The health officer pointed to strong community vaccination rates, including 85 percent of the eligible population having at least two doses, and added protection from the widespread number of omicron infections, which together should help guard King County against another surge in the short term. However, not all groups are equally protected.
“In addition not protection from vaccination, the large number of adults and children that were infected during the omicron surge will likely provide some additional community immunity for at least the near future,” Duchin said. “But COVID-19 is still circulating and some risks remain, especially for people with weakened immune systems from disease or medication, people with certain underlying health conditions that place them at increased risk for severe disease, advanced age, and those who are unvaccinated and unboosted.”
Though overall vaccination rates are high, booster participation is lower among younger age groups. While nearly 84 percent of residents 65 and older have received a booster, just 38 percent of people in the 18 to 34 age group are boosted.
(Public Health – Seattle & King County)
“People who have completed their primary series but have not gotten their booster dose are more likely to be hospitalized or die compared to people who have been boosted,” Duchin said. “For the best protection, please get your booster as soon as you’re eligible.”
For the unvaccinated, the county estimates they were 2.4 times more likely to test positive for COVID-19, 12 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 24 times more likely to die over the last month than residents up to date on their vaccinations and boosters.
(Public Health – Seattle & King County)
In closing out his Friday briefing, the health officer said successfully carving a path forward, with fewer restrictions in place, will require everyone to tap into the defenses that are available and for better systems to be established while transmission remains low.