Thursday, June 30th, 2022

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On the day before mask restrictions ease across Washington, King County’s health officer hosted a news briefing detailing some promising signs in the ongoing fight against COVID-19, just as the globe reaches another pandemic milestone.

“It was two years ago, on March 11, when the World Health Organization first declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a global pandemic,” Dr. Jeff Duchin said Friday. “Today, we mark that anniversary with some relatively optimistic news for all of us.”

The health officer said a steep decline in case counts have kept apace across all age groups and regions of King County since the omicron surge peaked in January, with new infections now close to the level they were before the winter surge began.

“King County is emerging from our omicron surge and our situation is improving every day,” Duchin said. “Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are continuing to fall and, if we’re lucky, the arrival of warmer weather and more outdoor activity may further limit COVID spread.”

Related: Washington’s Indoor Mask Rules End Saturday: What To Know

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Daily case counts soared to 6,467 on Jan. 10, and over the last week have averaged 226 in King County. COVID-19 hospitalizations, which hit 60 in a single day at the height of omicron, have fallen to six per day, helping hospitals recover some capacity and start to make headway in providing deferred care from the last few months.

“At this time, hospitals are beginning to treat a large backlog of patients whose procedures and surgeries were delayed when hospitals were overloaded during the omicron outbreak,” Duchin said. “Ongoing staffing concerns and high volumes of patients continue to challenge our health care system, however.”

Duchin said King County’s seven-day case rate sits at 70 per 100,000 residents, which is comfortably within the low bracket in CDC’s updated community transmission framework. COVID-19 patients now account for 5 percent of hospital beds, down from the peak of 21 percent, and deaths have declined 55 percent since peaking in early February.

(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
“Our numbers place us in the low community level, well below the cutoffs for medium or high level,” Duchin said. “At this level, CDC does not recommend universal indoor masking but does recommend vaccination, enhancing ventilation, COVID-19 testing, isolation, quarantine, and that immunocompromised persons have a plan with their health care provider for rapid testing and treatment if necessary.”

With all COVID-19 metrics continuing to fall, state and county officials say they are comfortable with removing broad masking requirements Saturday but note some may choose to continue wearing masks based on their personal needs, particularly in crowded or poorly ventilated spaces.

“This does not mean that COVID-19 is over,” Duchin said. “It does not mean that COVID-19 is no longer a problem, and it remains very reasonable for individuals to make the choice to continue to mask indoor settings, based on their personal risk assessment and preferences.”

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