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Covid-19 cases still on the rise in Phase 2 of reopening King County

caption: People gather on Wednesday, May 27, 2020, at Gas Works Park in Seattle.
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People gather on Wednesday, May 27, 2020, at Gas Works Park in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Seattle and King County are officially in phase two of reopening. But over the past week, the number of people with a confirmed case of Covid-19 has trended upwards, quickly.

KUOW’s Anna Boiko-Weyrauch is here to explain what is going on.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Starting two weeks ago, the number of cases started ticking up just about every day. According to preliminary data, King County had almost 100 new cases of Covid-19 Tuesday. That's the highest daily numbers since the beginning of May.

The trend now is toward younger people, people in their 20’s and 30’s. And as we've seen before, there are still racial disparities in who is getting Covid in King County. Compared to white people, the rate of Covid cases is three times higher for Black people, five times higher for Latinx people, and six times higher for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders.

I spoke about that with Dr. Jeff Duchin on Wednesday. He's the Health Officer of Public Health Seattle and King County. He said it's simple: more people are spending more time with other people. The risk of the virus has not gone down, but people are behaving differently than they were during the stay-at home-order. Now, we're giving the virus more opportunities to spread.

Dr. Duchin says:

“People are coming in contact with one another more frequently. They're having more contact closer than six feet, and they're having longer contact, and people aren't wearing masks probably to the degree that they should be, which would also further reduce their risk.”

As a side note, testing has actually doubled in the past two weeks. That accounts for some of the increasing cases, but not all of it.

Not a lot of the new cases have actually come from protests. Only thirty-one people have reported being at a protest somewhere in the county. That's out of over 1000 cases that emerged during the ongoing protests.

Where and how the new cases are occurring is something I really wanted to know, too — the answer is very telling. When someone gets Covid-19, they get a call from a health worker who does an interview, asks them where they've been and what they've been doing.

But, Covid can take two weeks to show up in someone who's infected. In that period of time, people are doing a lot of things, and they're going a lot of places now. It's very hard to pin down where exactly they caught the virus.

Dr. Duchin says it could be someone you live with, or where you work, or transit, or a restaurant, or shopping, or a casino:

“There are a whole lot of places out there now where you can acquire Covid in our state. And people should assume that it's everywhere, and it really is everywhere right now.”

This is a very important point that Dr. Duchin repeated over and over. Just because we're in phase two does not mean there's less risk. There's actually more risk now.

Duchin said he felt it was okay to move to phase two, because he felt our health system was capable of dealing with the new cases. Plus, now there's even more capacity for testing and contact tracing, so we can keep an eye on how the virus is spreading.

But now, if the health system starts to get strained, if hospitals start to fill up, then we're going to have to close down businesses again and go back to staying at home.

Duchin said he's very concerned that people don't understand just how risky the virus still is. That's why local and state health officials are pushing so hard for us to wear masks right now. Secretary of Health John Wiesman told me today that covering your nose and mouth is a good way to slow the spread of the virus:

“Because I can feel like I'm totally healthy today, but maybe unbeknownst to me, I'm actually infected. By wearing a face covering, I am preventing putting those droplets out in the air that somebody else might become infected.”

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.

Link to free Covid-19 testing sites in King County

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