The virus sort of looks like an eye and a storm and an eye in a storm.
The virus sort of looks like an eye and a storm and an eye in a storm. UNSPLASH/ CDC

At a Friday press conference Seattle and King County public health chief Dr. Jeff Duchin ran through the latest coronavirus data and concluded that we may be in the eye of the viral storm, though we won't know for sure until next week.

His concern follows a week when many defied public health guidelines (and The Stranger's explicit commands) by traveling across the country to celebrate my birthday with their friends and family.

Though the county's average daily case counts dropped down from the mid-700s to the low-500s this week, Duchin noted that testing volumes were down 25% compared to the week before Thanksgiving. Holiday closures and reduced capacities at testing facilities likely account for that drop, as well as a lower number of people seeking tests during the back half of the week.

Meanwhile, positivity rates remain high, the number and size of outbreaks are increasing, the average number of hospitalizations are increasing, and the number of deaths are creeping up a little, all of which suggests that transmission is occurring at much higher rates than the current case counts indicate, Duchin said. The county saw a similar pattern play out after July 4th and Labor Day, and so it's not looking great!

Aside from the tragedy of needless sickness and death, a surge next week could overwhelm hospitals and prevent non-COVID patients from getting the care they desperately need. The influx of patients will also further stress our already burnt-out and increasingly ill health care workforce.

Duchin welcomed the recent news of coming vaccines but said we all need to continue wearing masks and staying in as much as possible to limit spread. Even after the government starts distributing the vaccine, community immunization will take “many many months" to achieve, as doses will be rolled out in phases, some groups may not respond well to the vaccine, and some won't want it or may have trouble accessing it.

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Assuming all goes well vaccine-wise, Duchin guessed King County would receive between 130,000 and 150,000 doses, which would probably cover the county's estimated 150,000 health care workers and long-term care staffers, who will likely be first in line to get the jab.

Despite the need to start scaling up a local vaccination delivery program and to maintain testing and investigations staff, Duchin somewhat alarmingly said his department must "contemplate having to downsize our COVID-19 response," as federal money will dry up at the end of the year unless Congress passes another stimulus package. Until then, the public health department is "actively looking for alternative sources" of funding and asking anyone with $$$ ideas to get in touch with the department.

President-elect Joe Biden did "smirk" when asked today if he'd spoken with Senate Majority Leader and Vampire King Mitch McConnell, so a solution to the Congressional logjam is almost certainly just around the corner.