Here are some sobering facts to consider.
One resident of King County died of COVID-19 every day last week, Dr. Jeff Duchin, the Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County, said during a virtual press conference Friday.
He was discussing the troubling recent increase in COVID-19 infections seen in the county, calling the latest data “storm clouds on the horizon.”
Over a week ago, there were 250 new cases reported in the county, up 26% from mid-March, raising concerns because health officials are uncertain how high a possible surge will be. Infections among 18 to 24-year-olds have risen at the fastest pace in the last few weeks. Rates among adults aged 65 to 74 years old fortunately have remained low, according to Duchin, but steadily increased in March.
Although the number of hospitalizations is still lower than it was during the majority of the fall and winter spike, it has more than doubled since early March.
“We don’t have any indication that this trend will be leveling off soon,” Duchin said.
When transmission increases in the community, the virus can find its way to those who are most vulnerable and unprotected. And the threat is real. According to a study published last week by the Washington Department of Health, health officials are monitoring 600 cases of COVID-19 caused by coronavirus variants.
In the last eight weeks, there have been eight outbreaks affiliated with youth sports leagues, according to Duchin. All of the teams reported taking precautions during game play and practices. That wasn’t enough. COVID had plenty of chances to spread as teams traveled to matches, shared communal meals, and socialized before and after games, Duchin said.
Last week, an outbreak among Vashon High School students who attended a non-school-related gathering wound up exposing other students participating in sports activities in our district. This led, thankfully, to a strengthening of procedures and policies in the district, but vigilance and good decision-making going forward remain crucial.
We know the drill. We’ve played out this scenario countless times over the long, dark year we’ve spent in the grip of an epidemic that has claimed the lives of more than 550,000 Americans, including three islanders. This time, vaccines are here, and more are on the way. However, the virus is spreading across the county and the nation faster than health officials can innoculate people against it.
For anyone who wants a refresher, here’s the rundown: Take the necessary precautions to protect yourself and everyone you care about. Wear a well-fitting face mask and minimize your contact with unvaccinated people outside your house. Indoor crowds should be avoided. Pay attention to ventilation in offices, industries, and homes by opening doors and windows, among other things. Remember how COVID-19 travels through the air, even from people who don’t seem to be infected or who don’t have any symptoms.
Here are some facts to give you hope.
King County is ahead of the curve. One in five county residents aged 16 and older are now fully vaccinated. We’ve reached 70% or higher vaccine coverage levels for one or more doses for adults 65 and older across all racial and ethnic groups.
85% of county residents aged 65 and up have received at least one dose, compared to 74% nationwide. 64% of older county residents have completed the vaccine series. In comparison, only 52% of older Americans have received their second shot.
Beginning April 15, anyone 16 and older who wants to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in Washington state will be eligible, though demand will continue to outstrip the availability of vaccine doses.
Most states are also seeing an increase in their COVID cases, but things are looking up in other ways. The job market is also showing signs of improvement, with over 916,000 Americans returning to work last month, about 300,000 more than expected.
All of this is to say that we are persevering. In every corner of the world where COVID-19 has touched down and tried to destroy life, people held on, made extraordinary sacrifices, became leaders and accidental activists, educated themselves and others, and forged ahead carrying on however they could, including on this island.
Some of these actions, as you will see on page 1, are as simple as giving away flowers to brighten the days of families, neighbors, and those who are grieving, as well as to our essential workers and those who are lonely.
As part of “The Vashon Model: A Community-based Response to COVID,” a webinar airing at 7 p.m. tonight, Thursday, April 8, members of our Medical Reserves Corps will speak about their courageous role in Vashon’s nationally-recognized response to the COVID pandemic. The event is still available for registration online at bit.ly/liveswelllived.
We’re almost done with this. But remember to do your part. Until we’re through, wait for those storm clouds to pass and keep your head above water.