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'Delta denial is dangerous': King County health officer urges all residents to lower COVID-19 risk

So far, more than 75% of King County's eligible population have completed their COVID-19 vaccination series.

SEATTLE — King County continues to see a surge of coronavirus cases driven by the delta variant, health officials said Thursday, and to stave off restrictions people must continue getting vaccinated.

Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health—Seattle & King County, expressed both his concern and optimism Thursday as the region continues to grapple with COVID-19, particularly the highly transmissible delta variant.

Duchin said 86% of sequenced cases this week were the delta variant, up from 78% at the end of July. King County reported 344 daily cases, which doubles two weeks ago, and is six times the rate a month ago.

The outbreak also continues to be focused among the unvaccinated. For the 30 day period ending July 21st: 88% of COVID hospitalizations were not fully vaccinated, 87% of deaths were not fully vaccinated, and 75% of all cases were not fully vaccinated.

He continued to advocate for vaccinations but also urged residents to lower their risk of infection, whether they are vaccinated against the virus or not. 

"Risk is additive. The risks you take add up. To lower your risk of COVID-19, do fewer risky things," he said.

He added as an example that he was not yet partaking in indoor public dining and avoids other places where crowding can occur.

He said that breakthrough cases in vaccinated individuals do not mean vaccine failure but may be more common with the dominant delta variant. 

"Unfortunately, the delta variant seems to increase the risk of vaccinated people developing less severe infections compared to earlier strains, and some of these cases can spread the infection to others," he said. 

Seattle-King County Public Health contact tracers are also noticing an uptick of outbreaks from non-healthcare workplaces, and from large social events.

“Over the last several weeks, Public Health’s investigation and epidemiology teams have received a substantial number of reports of outbreaks. Large numbers of people are becoming infected when gathering together in indoor public settings and not wearing masks or taking other precautions to prevent COVID-19,” said Meagan Kay, Deputy Chief for the Communicable Disease Epidemiology and Immunization Section of Public Health in a blog post outlining the outbreaks. "This is concerning given the reports are likely just a subset of the total number of outbreaks taking place and exposing our community.”

Last week, details were released regarding one outbreak involving a King County area fitness center, which held a charity workout event with 70 people in attendance at the end of June.

As of July 28, officials found 16 of those individuals were positive for COVID-19 as well as a member of a COVID-positive attendee’s household.

The fitness center voluntarily closed while health officials continue their investigation, but Duchin said that the incident is an example of situations “where even vaccinated people need to take precautions,” especially because of the delta variant.

Despite the rise in cases, Duchin said that he is not considering any restrictions because the King County health care system is not being overwhelmed yet and death rates remain stable, adding that he's optimistic more people will seek the vaccine. 

"People are not stupid. People are smart. They know that when folks around them are getting sick and hospitalized, and young people are ending up in the intensive care unit with breathing tubes, you know, that’s not a good thing," he said. "And people will see that and want to protect themselves. I am convinced."

The delta variant’s dominance prompted Duchin to come out before many health leaders to recommend universal masking regardless of vaccination status in indoor public spaces, a recommendation later adopted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Gov. Jay Inslee.

While reassuring everyone that the pandemic will come to an end, he warned that residents should expect more uncertainty in the days to come, especially as the country continues to struggle with the delta variant.

"For now, our outbreak continues to evolve, and our understanding is evolving, and our actions need to evolve as well to reflect the reality of our pandemic," he said. "Delta denial is dangerous." 

The latest data on the health department’s website shows more than 75% of the county’s population has completed their vaccination series.