As COVID-19 Surges Yet Again, King County Poised to Move Back to Phase 2

by Carolyn Bick


Unless State officials change the Roadmap to Recovery metrics before Tuesday, May 4, these same officials will likely move King County back into Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan, due to the fact that the County has exceeded both case and hospitalization rate metrics required to stay in Phase 3.

“Our 14-day new case rate is 242 [people] per 100,000 [people], and the metric for Phase 3 calls for that number to be below 200,” Public Health – Seattle & King County (PHSKC) Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said in a press conference on Friday, April 30. “Our seven-day hospitalization rate is 5.8 [people] per 100,000 [people], and [the Phase 3] metric calls for that number to be below 5.”

The 14-day new case rate is calculated with a seven-day lag and the hospitalization rate is calculated with a 10-day lag, as per Washington State Department of Health (DOH) guidelines, Duchin said. State officials will be evaluating King County and other Washington State counties on May 4 to assess whether they should be moved back to Phase 2. Most counties are currently in Phase 3.

Since early March, King County’s case rate has increased by 80% and its hospitalization rate has doubled, as shown on its COVID-19 dashboard. Most of the new infections are among younger people aged 18-24, followed by ages 25-49. Duchin said that “our situation would be much, much worse, if we did not have incredibly effective vaccines protecting our older adults.”

“Unfortunately, we do not have enough younger and middle-aged adults vaccinated to counteract the impact of variants that spread more easily,” Duchin said.

He also said that one of the five major variants of concern, B.1.1.7., is now the dominant form of the virus in Washington State. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first identified B.1.1.7 as a variant of concern earlier this year. It has been found to be much more contagious than the original novel coronavirus and causes more severe illness. Duchin’s predictions that it would become the dominant form of the virus in King County came true a couple of weeks ago, just after the news that it had become the most prevalent form of the virus nationwide, as other health experts had predicted.

In the April 30 press conference, Duchin also noted that another variant of concern, P.1, is also becoming more prevalent. This variant may also be more contagious — perhaps up to two times more transmissible — and has the ability to “dodge” antibodies the body has created either through vaccination or prior infection, making infection despite vaccination or re-infection more likely. The variant is also more lethal.

Duchin said that 64% of people aged 16 and older in King County have already been vaccinated with at least one dose of one of the three available vaccines, Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson. However, in addition to taking at least two weeks to fully kick in, one dose does not grant the level of immunity needed to protect against contracting the virus and developing COVID-19. It takes two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine to adequately protect against the virus. The Pfizer vaccine was shown to be 95.3% effective at protecting against the virus two weeks after the second dose, and the Moderna vaccine was shown to be 94.1% effective at protecting against the virus two weeks after the second dose.

The only one-dose vaccine currently available is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the use of which the CDC and Food and Drug Administration recently recommended to resume. This vaccine was shown to be 66.3% effective at protecting against the virus two weeks after administration.

Duchin listed off the usual precautions that King County residents don’t appear to be taking, given the current case rate numbers. These include avoiding gathering together if not fully vaccinated.

“It is a simple fact that, right now, and in the future, you can do more things safely, if you are vaccinated. And that’s the best way out of this mess of a pandemic for everyone,” Duchin said.

South King County continues to be a hotbed of COVID activity, and vaccinations continue to lag behind in South King County, due to issues regarding equity of access, Duchin said. With respect to race and ethnicity, “we have done very well closing the vaccination gap in our older adults,” Duchin said, adding that across all races and ethnicities, 80% have one or more doses.

“But when we look at everyone 16 or older, our one or more dose coverage rates are 60-67% for white, Asian, Hawai’ian, Pacific Islander, and Native American residents, compared to 42-43% for Black, African American and Hispanic residents,” Duchin said. “To help address these disparities, we are continuing to hold regular community vaccine events to reach traditionally underserved populations, and engaging with community partners to bring vaccine in accessible and acceptable formats to our communities.”

He also said that PHSKC is “continuing to do a lot of work with our mobile vaccination teams to reach vulnerable populations.” He said that PHSKC’s 19 mobile vaccination teams have been able to reach homebound individuals and their caretakers, as well as those living unhoused.

Fortunately, Duchin said, vaccine supply has increased, and “people are able to sign up for appointments right away now, with no wait list.”

“We encourage everyone who has tried to find an appointment in the past to try again now, because it’s much easier, and it’s much quicker,” Duchin said. “We are making vaccination as accessible as possible by opening up vaccine access without appointments and expanding more evening and weekend hours [in order to accommodate work schedules.]”

The Seattle Office of the Mayor today announced in a press release that the Seattle Fire Department (SFD) is partnering with the Seattle Sounders FC to offer “in-stadium, no appointment vaccinations to all eligible fans at home games, beginning this Sunday evening as the Rave Green take on the LA Galaxy.”

“Fan vaccinations — like all COVID-19 vaccinations — are free of charge and are being made available on a walk-up basis with no appointments necessary,” the press release read. “Vaccinations will be available starting when gates open and running through the end of the match. Fans being vaccinated on Sunday will also receive a voucher to redeem for a free hot dog at Lumen Field concession stands.”

The SFD will be at the West Field Plaza outside section 140 and the East Main Concourse outside section 104, the press release said. The SFD will administer the Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines. Those who receive Moderna will schedule their second dose at any of the City’s community vaccination hubs. However, these vaccines are only available for those who are not vaccinated at all. Those who need their second dose will not be able to get the vaccine at the stadium.

The SFD is also administering walk-in vaccinations at the Rainier Beach and West Seattle vaccination sites to anyone 60 and older who has not received their first dose. 

“Anyone 60 or older can head to Rainier Beach or West Seattle hubs and receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine without an appointment,” the press release said. “The City also launched the Good Neighbor program: Anyone 16 or older who hasn’t been vaccinated can bring someone 60 or older who also hasn’t been vaccinated to Rainier Beach or West Seattle, and SFD will vaccinate both people, no appointment required. Residents can find more information here.”

The Emerald has an evolving source of information on vaccination availability here. PHSKC also has a list of vaccination sites here, and King County residents can register for a vaccination at one of PHSKC’s mass vaccination sites in Kent or Auburn here. The City of Seattle is booking vaccine appointments here.


Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. As the Emerald’s Watchdragon reporter, they dive deep into local issues to keep the public informed and ensure those in positions of power are held accountable for their actions. You can reach them here and can check out their work here and here.

Featured Image: The City of Seattle vaccination site in Rainier Beach. The site offers COVID-19 vaccinations by appointment to anyone age 16 and older, and those 60 years and older can receive a first vaccination without an appointment. Photo by Alex Garland.

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