High levels of COVID-19 transmission continue in King County, public health officials said at a Friday briefing.

A rise in COVID-19 cases that began in September peaked in early December at around 770 cases a day. The number of cases decreased throughout most of December but began to rise again toward the end of the month and remain in an upswing. From Dec. 27 to Jan. 2, COVID-19 cases increased by more than 30%, which Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County, attributed to travel and social gatherings during the holidays.  

About 570 daily cases have been recorded over the past seven days, with the highest incidences found in south King County, particularly in Kent, Auburn and Federal Way. Over the past week, more than 150 people were hospitalized with COVID-19. Throughout December, the county averaged about 50 deaths a week at a median age of 81.

A more contagious variant strain of the coronavirus, prevalent in the United Kingdom, has yet to be found in Washington state but is expected to turn up. Some laboratories in King County can detect viruses that may be the new variant. New variants that are detected are sent for further study to a Washington State Public Health Laboratory or virologists at the University of Washington.

The U.K. variant has been detected in several U.S. states, including California, Florida and New York.

“Adding strains that spread more readily to our outbreak will be like throwing gasoline on a COVID-19 wildfire,” Duchin said. “Unless we take strong actions to stop it, more transmissible strains will lead to rapid, potentially explosive increases in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. And this will compound the impact and suffering of COVID-19 across our communities and potentially overwhelm our hospitals.”


King County remains in vaccine Phase 1A, which prioritizes vaccination rollout for an estimated 140,000 front-line health-care providers, thousands of EMS personnel and about 40,000 long-term care facility staff and residents. Although King County has the highest amount of people in the state eligible to receive vaccinations in the current phase, the county has received only about 23% of the state’s allocation at 141,000 doses. About 60% of the allocated doses in the county have already been administered.

About 65% of physicians, surgeons and registered nurses in King County have had at least one dose, along with about 70% of licensed physician assistants, about 60% of EMTs and paramedics and about 50% of dentists. Only about 30% of medical technicians and assistants have been vaccinated in the county.

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