Case Rates Remain Highest in South King County, Two Vaccination Sites Open

by Elizabeth Turnbull

A large wave of COVID-19 cases is expected to arrive in Seattle due to a variant strain of the virus, meanwhile South King County remains the most impacted by the novel coronavirus, county public health officials said in a press conference Friday afternoon. Vaccinations have been distributed at higher rates in north and central King County. In response the county has stepped up efforts to increase the number of vaccination sites for South King County residents in the past week.

Public Health — Seattle & King County (PHSKC) noted that rates of COVID-19 infections in South King County, particularly the cities of Auburn, Kent, Federal Way, Burien, Renton, Tukwila, and Sea-Tac are roughly three times higher than in central Seattle. Hospitalizations and deaths are also three to four times higher in these areas. 

As a result, two community vaccination sites, one in Kent and one in Auburn, opened on February 1, to address this disparity in cases and impact on South King County residents, many of whom are people of color. The county says that 64% of individuals registered at the South King County vaccination sites thus far are age 70 and older and 43% of people registered identify as BIPOC. 

This week, the city started a brief project that ends on Monday, Feb. 8, to vaccinate people living in congregate permanent supportive housing and older adults living in affordable housing buildings, through partnerships with Bellwether Housing, Plymouth Housing, Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda), and Seattle Housing Authority (SHA).

In addition, the city is hosting  a pop-up vaccination clinic in partnership with the Ethiopian Community in Seattle to provide COVID-19 vaccines to East African community members eligible under Phase 1B, Tier 1 in a project that will run through Monday, Feb. 8.

“We’re working hard to make sure that vaccine-eligible residents at high risk and living in those areas with the highest disease burden have fair and equitable access to vaccines,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer at Public Health – Seattle & King County at Friday’s press briefing.

While efforts are being made to increase the number of vaccinations in South Seattle, the highest rates of vaccine coverage is currently in Vashon Island and North and Central Seattle, where 36-37% of individuals 65 and older have received the vaccine, compared to only 24-28% in the South King County area, according to PHSKC.

As of Feb. 4, close to 300,000 doses of vaccine were administered in King County, with roughly 233,000 people having received a first dose — about 13% of the King County population — and 60,000 individuals have been fully vaccinated.

For the past few weeks, new case numbers have been falling but public health officials are predicting a substantial surge in novel coronavirus infections due to the arrival of a coronavirus strain B.1.1.7 in King County — a more contagious strain that was originally detected in the UK.

“It’s as though we’re experiencing two outbreaks now,” Duchin said. “We’re currently seeing a decrease in cases in the outbreak we’ve been experiencing from the virus we’ve gotten to know in the past year, while at the same time a new outbreak threat from the variant strain B.1.1.7 is growing and largely is silent at the moment.” 

Estimates from other countries suggest the variant doubles in size every week, which means that it may not be very apparent at first, when small numbers are doubling, but a doubling of cases can be very significant once case numbers are larger. 

“I feel that we’re in the eye of a hurricane and I want to remind everyone that we should expect the variant strain to become widespread here,” Duchin said. “And that it will make our outbreak much harder for us to control.”

Because of this, Duchin reminded county residents that practices of prevention should be taken seriously and residents should be careful to wear masks and properly ventilate areas. Duchin specifically emphasized the importance of abiding by preventative measures looking ahead to the Super Bowl, a time when people would traditionally be socializing.

Activities like shouting and singing have been known to increase the risk of becoming infected and Duchin recommends not gathering indoors with non-household members, eating outside and, if you are gathering indoors, to open a window and wear a mask. 

“Try to limit loud cheering,” Duchin said. “Especially for Tampa Bay.”

Elizabeth Turnbull is a journalist with reporting experience in the U.S. and the Middle East. She has a passion for covering human-centric issues and doing so consistently.

Featured image: People gather at a pop-up vaccination site in Rainier Beach (Photo: Alex Garland).

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