SEATTLE, WA — Coronavirus activity continues to rise in King County, where increased case counts and transmission levels have left public health officials uneasy about the trajectory heading into the cold months.
Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for King County, hosted a news briefing Tuesday, outlining some concerning markers recorded across the county since Sept. 21.
“We expected it would be more challenging to manage COVID-19 during the fall and winter as we spend more time indoors and environmental conditions favor the spread of infection,” Duchin said. “The trends we’re seeing today should be a wake-up call for everyone. The longer we wait, the more difficult it gets to change the trajectory of an increasing outbreak. If we let it get away from us now, we may be in for a very dark time over the coming months.”
Washington’s most populous county has seen the highest number of positive cases in the state since the pandemic began. After two months of progress, that number is again trending in the wrong direction.
“Since the 21st of September, transmission and cases have been increasing in King County and regionally, as well as in many states across the country,” Duchin said. “Last week, we had over 1,000 cases reported in King County, and we’re having over 140 cases reported each day over the past week.”
The latest numbers are more than twice the trends seen in September. While record testing plays a role in the increase, Duchin said, the county’s testing positivity rate and the virus’s reproductive number have also grown, indicating increased transmission.
King County’s 14-day rate of cases has grown to 89 illnesses per 100,000 residents, a key indicator that places the county back in the highest bracket for transmission risk. In late September, that number had dropped to 50, landing the county in the low end of the moderate range.
Duchin said hospitalizations remain “relatively stable,” but have increased by one third. Increases have been recorded across all age groups, but particularly in young people and middle-aged adults. Over the last week, those ages 18-24 currently have seen the highest rate of infection, followed by people ages 25-34.
According to the county’s data, about 10 percent of cases in the last week were linked to an outbreak associated with the University of Washington’s Greek system. As of Tuesday, at least 242 students among 17 sororities and fraternities have tested positive since early September.
“As that tells us, this outbreak is large, but it is not responsible for all of the increase that we’re seeing in the county,” Duchin said.
Over the past two weeks, suspected exposures were “broadly distributed,” Duchin said, with 40 percent of cases acquired within the household, 30 percent from social events and other activities and 16 percent among essential workers.
The county’s rate of deaths continues to remain stable, with six to nine reported per week over the last month and mostly confined to patients over 80 years old. If community transmission becomes widespread,