Dr. Jeff Duchin is here to say whats up.
Dr. Jeff Duchin is here to say what's up. King County Public Health Screengrab

In a press conference Monday morning, the county’s top doc Dr. Jeffrey Duchin sounded a soft alarm bell that King County’s COVID-19 cases count crossed over from the CDC’s “low” level to “medium.”

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According to the COVID-19 Community Level Dashboard, cases climbed throughout the County over the past six weeks due to the Omicron subvariant. Though a relative increase, the subvariant is pulling rookie numbers. For scale, Duchin reminded the public that during the winter Omicron surge, the County saw a seven-day average of around 2,100 cases per 100,000 people. That average dropped to just 53 cases at its lowest, climbing steadily to a present seven-day average around 217. That said, the County admits our current count is an underestimate due to people taking at-home rapid tests. Hospitalizations and deaths are on par with the lowest numbers between other spikes.

“The CDC medium risk category is not a magic threshold, meaning the COVID-19 pandemic locally is not suddenly or fundamentally different, or that we're approaching a crisis level,” Duchin said. “But it does tell us that COVID-19 infection risk is increasing for individuals and the community.”

Duchin said the new “medium” distinction serves as a symbolic yellow light. With reportedly no reason to slam on the breaks, Seattle & King County Public Health did not issue any new recommendations or restrictions. Still, Duchin noted in the press conference that the fewer precautions we take, the more COVID-19 we should expect to see in our community, so he advised that individuals manage their own risk by getting up to date on their boosters, improving indoor air quality, and wearing a mask.

Public health officials have grappled with whether the government should issue mandates or individuals should fend for themselves throughout the pandemic. Recently, more responsibility fell onto individuals as all levels of government rolled back some COVID-19 precautions after the winter Omicron surge subsided, even though, as Duchin put it, “COVID is still out there. A lot of COVID is out there.”

Duchin said that mandates are not always the answer. For example, King County took advantage of the highly available vaccine, one of our best defenders against the virus. Duchin said with about 85% of residents done with the initial series of the vaccine and about 59% of residents up to date on their COVID-19 shots in King County, it wouldn’t make sense to mandate getting the jab.

However, Duchin said indoor mask mandates are a different story. Unsurprisingly, when the government tells people they don’t have to wear a mask, people listen. Duchin said it would be “reasonable to consider” a mask mandate if things got “out of control in the healthcare system,” but again, we’re only at a yellow light.