As King County Coronavirus Cases Increase, Experts Urge Caution

SEATTLE, WA – After registering a 60 percent increase in coronavirus cases in a single week, King County public health officials are asking residents to renew their commitment to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Jeff Duchin, King County Health Officer, hosted a digital press conference on Friday afternoon, outlining some areas of concern uncovered in recent data.

“After a decreasing trend in the number of cases from the peak in late March, there has been a growing trend in the last 11 days or so,” Duchin said.

For the week of June 14-20, public health officials recorded 156 more cases than the previous week. Duchin said the increase coincides with a doubling of testing rates since June 7, particularly in Seattle, while the rate of hospitalizations and deaths remained stable.

“We are not seeing a major impact on our health care system, which continues to have very good resources and is able to handle COVID-19 cases and others that may need medical care,” Duchin said. “There is no reason why people should avoid seeking medical attention for any condition at this time.”

The number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths are among several key metrics that are monitored daily by state and local health officials to determine when it is appropriate to move forward under the Washington Safe Start Plan or take corrective action, including backing down. To date, no Washington county has reversed phases, but three, Yakima, Franklin, and Benton, remain in Phase 1.

King County entered Phase 2 exactly a week ago.

“The increase in cases in the last two weeks means that we have more contact with each other but we do not take more precautions,” said Duchin. “There seems to be a misconception that because we are reopening, the risk of COVID-19 has decreased. But the truth is, the virus is still widespread in the community and the risk of infection is still severe.”

Recent data revealed another departure from overall trends, with nearly half of new King County cases seen between the ages of 20-39. Duchin said no specific location or risk factor was observed in follow-up contacts, including participation in recent protests. Public health workers said fewer than three dozen people with confirmed illnesses, among approximately 1,000 patients in that span, said they participated in the large meetings.

The most common source of infection in King County remains within homes.

While the risk of transmission is lower outdoors, Duchin said, it can still occur, and taking appropriate steps to protect each other is critical to prevent further spread.

“Close contact with other people, longer contact duration, and poorly ventilated spaces increase the risk,” Duchin said. “Physical distance and staying home are still the most powerful prevention measures, along with wearing face masks in public and good hand washing.”

Earlier this week, Crosscut reported concerns from a top health official that King County will advance to Phase 3 soon, citing the number of new infections and other limitations. Duchin said Friday that the county will act quickly if the first warning signs point to impending strain on the health care system.

“I am concerned that if people don’t behave in a way that decreases transmission, we will go in that direction,” Duchin said. “I hope that is not the case.”