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caption: File photo: Khai Tran, a utility worker with Seattle Parks and Recreation, sprays water onto a swing-set before a mixture of bleach and water is applied to the West Woodland Park Playground as a result of the coronavirus outbreak on Thursday, March 19, 2020, in Seattle. KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
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File photo: Khai Tran, a utility worker with Seattle Parks and Recreation, sprays water onto a swing-set before a mixture of bleach and water is applied to the West Woodland Park Playground as a result of the coronavirus outbreak on Thursday, March 19, 2020, in Seattle. KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Coronavirus is more contagious now than last year as variants spread in King County

As Seattleites emerge from quarantine to celebrate warm weather and vaccination, ominous news comes from public health experts.

People who are not yet vaccinated are more likely to catch Covid-19 now than we all were around this time last year. Consider June last year: near total lockdown.

This is because there are more variants, which are more contagious. Three-quarters of the coronavirus cases in King County that have been sequenced, or examined closely, are variants. This includes the variant that originated in India, which is present and spreading, said Dr. Jeffrey Duchin of Public Health Seattle-King County.

“We know that as new variants develop, they may cause more serious illness,” Duchin said.

He shared this news in a virtual briefing last Friday that would have sounded like a series of bombshells to anyone who hadn’t weathered more than a year of jaw-dropping pandemic news.

“Although we’re making progress, our current disease rate is five times higher than this time last year,” Duchin said. “Hospitalizations are three times higher than our low point last spring.”

Vaccinated people are safer: 97 percent of new cases are in people who have not been vaccinated.

Disparities persist in who is getting vaccinated. In King County, 40 percent of Black residents are vaccinated; 58 percent of white residents are vaccinated, Duchin said.

He said vaccinations are lagging in parts of the county that had the highest Covid-19 rates: Auburn, Kent, Federal Way, Burien, Renton, SeaTac.

In more positive news, Duchin said that the state is on track to having 70 percent of people ages 16+ fully vaccinated by the end of June. But herd immunity, Duchin said, likely won’t happen.

“My guess is that 70 percent will provide us with a good degree of protection against major outbreaks and large numbers of hospitalizations and deaths,” he said.

Meanwhile, Duchin said there is increased investment in sequencing coronavirus samples to track the variants and tweak the vaccine should it come to that.

“There may be variants that may be able to evade vaccine immunity – we’re not seeing that currently,” he said.