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The calm before the storm? What Covid-19 might look like this fall and winter

caption: Dr. Jeff Duchin with Public Health Seattle-King County speaks at a media briefing on the region's COVID-19 outbreak, Wednesday, March 4, 2020.
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Dr. Jeff Duchin with Public Health Seattle-King County speaks at a media briefing on the region's COVID-19 outbreak, Wednesday, March 4, 2020.
Public Health Seattle-King County

Public health officials are concerned that the cold weather months could bring a resurgence in Covid-19 infections in King County and the surrounding region.

The county’s most recent wave of cases and hospitalizations has receded from a peak in July, plateauing at about 10 to 13 hospitalizations per day, according to Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County.

By now, this ebb and flow of the pandemic is familiar. Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths rise; they peak, they fall, and then there’s a lull.

“There’s a real possibility we are now in what will turn out to be the lull before the storm,” Duchin said at a press briefing on Thursday.

Current case and hospitalization levels are higher than they were before each of the county’s prior surges, Duchin said. As the weather cools and people spend more time indoors, Duchin said a significant fall and winter surge could arise.

He’s looking to Europe, where increasing Covid-19 spread and hospitalizations are already emerging in the absence of a new dominant variant, as a harbinger for what’s to come.

In the past, Duchin said, surges in Europe have been a good predictor of what can be expected in the U.S. in a matter of weeks. He called the state of Covid in Europe "a clear warning for us."

“With waning immunity from past infection and vaccination, with increasing activity and indoor gatherings in the fall and winter, and people returning to their pre-Covid lifestyles, with other environmental changes that promote Covid-19 spread…and a bucketful of worrisome new variants on the horizon, with low booster rates — especially in our older adults — we remain vulnerable to what could be a significant fall and winter surge,” he said

Duchin and other health officials are pleading with the public to get all recommended Covid vaccines and boosters. They say it’s the single most important thing to do to help build protection against the disease.

Booster uptake has been dwindling in recent months. Across Washington, just over 10% of eligible people have received the updated omicron booster, according to the state Department of Health.

READ: It's so hard to find Covid boosters in WA, experts worry people will give up

Everyone aged five and older is eligible for the updated boosters as long as it’s been at least two months since their last Covid-19 shot.

Doses are already available for those 12 and older, although some people have had trouble getting appointments to date.

The omicron-specific shots – often called bivalent boosters because they target two strains of the virus – should be available for younger children in the coming week.

READ: Tips for finding an omicron booster shot in Western Washington

Duchin expressed concern and displeasure about difficulties some people have been having accessing the updated vaccines. He urged people to keep trying and to consider going to one of the county’s vaccination sites, which take walk-ins.

Beyond vaccines though, Duchin said other measures still need to be taken as the weather turns. He said improving indoor air quality, using high quality masks when in indoor public spaces, and testing are all critical tools to help reduce spread.

Even with current Covid-19 levels, a moderate to severe flu and respiratory virus season could add significant strain to the county’s already struggling health care system, Duchin said.

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