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King County's COVID community level increases to 'medium' as cases rises

While case numbers have risen, Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin says hospitalizations and deaths remain steady and relatively low.

SEATTLE — Due to a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations, King County’s community level for the virus is now “medium,” per the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin announced the heightened community level Monday, citing the rising amount of COVID in the community.

While Duchin said the new level should act as a “yellow traffic light” for residents, there weren’t any mandates being introduced.

“We’re issuing no new recommendations or requirements at this time. No new restrictions at this time,” he said during a briefing.

Duchin likened it to an opportunity for residents to go back to wearing masks in congregate settings where there is poor ventilation, to improve indoor air filtration and increase disinfection efforts.

He also once again advised everyone to get up to date on their recommended doses of the COVID vaccine, pointing out that this is the only way to qualify as "fully vaccinated" under the CDC's new definition.

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The CDC’s community-level guidance, which was released back in late February, rates counties across the nation based on three transmission levels: low, medium and high.

These levels are determined by looking at factors like the number of hospital beds being used, the number of hospital admissions and the total number of new COVID cases in the given county.

On Monday, King County entered the medium community level because there are over 200 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents over the last seven days.

According to the latest data, the county saw about 217 new COVID cases per 100,000 residents over the last seven days. 

Duchin said previously he felt the threshold was too high, but said that he hoped additional modeling would help inform metrics and optimize the timing to trigger mitigation measures like indoor masking or social distancing rules.

However, the burden on King County hospitals from COVID-19 has been relatively low over recent weeks.

On Monday, Duchin said that the key in bringing back mandates like the indoor mask requirement for public indoor spaces would be any threat to the health care system or a new variant that was significantly more dangerous than the dominant omicron variant.

As of Monday's latest numbers, King County has a seven-day daily average of about 690 positive cases but only about 10 daily hospitalizations.

Despite the heightened transmission level, Duchin remained optimistic.

“We’re still in a situation where there’s a great deal of uncertainty about where we’re headed, but we are in a much better place than we have been in the past couple of years during the early days of this outbreak,” he said.

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