With COVID-19 cases doubling since last week, and up by 50% since Thanksgiving, King County health leaders warn that the omicron variant is taking hold.
Doctors are expecting exponential omicron growth for at least the next couple of weeks in the Seattle area and across King County.
Fred Hutchinson’s Dr. Trevor Bedford said omicron could soon outpace delta cases.
“We’ve been looking and seeing these very rapid and two to three day doubling times of omicron cases throughout South Africa, U.K., Germany, Denmark, U.S.,” he said.
King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin expressed similar concerns.
“The omicron outbreak we’ve been talking about is no longer theoretical. It’s real, it’s here, and it’s moving fast,” he noted in a Friday media briefing.
Snohomish and Skagit Counties reported their first cases of omicron this week. Whatcom, King, Pierce, and Thurston counties have also confirmed the variant.
That said, Duchin added that we can all take steps to reduce our personal risk and the risk to others.
Thankfully, among younger and vaccinated people, most reported omicron cases have been mild, as has been the case for delta. The severity of infection in older adults is not yet known, but Duchin expects it to be more severe than in younger people.
“Even if only a small proportion of cases are severe, when so many people are infected in such a short timeframe, it can lead to a very large number needing hospital care at once, overloading our already stressed health care system,” he said.
Dr. Duchin says the best thing to do to protect yourself and others is to get vaccinated and boosted if you haven’t already, even if you’ve previously had COVID-19.
“But vaccination alone will not be enough to limit the rapid spread of omicron that’s underway,” he said. “Vaccination needs to be layered in combination with other strategies that we know work to reduce the risk to individuals and to our community.”
“If there’s anything that we can do to improve our COVID prevention measures at home, at work, or in the community, this is the time to do it,” he added.
Duchin says we should take steps to improve ventilation in any setting, and continue to wear masks in public settings and indoors, especially at schools, workplaces, and any upcoming holiday gatherings.
“People need to use some judgment here. We’re asking folks to avoid crowded, indoor spaces, particularly if they can’t mask,” Duchin said, but there are no added restrictions the county is enacting at this point, though he admits “we’re not closing the door” on the possibility of additional measures.
“Today’s news is not what any of us want to hear after two long and exhausting years of COVID-19,” Duchin acknowledged Friday. “Despite all we’ve been through, omicron is throwing a new challenge at us at a most inconvenient time.”
KIRO Newsradio’s Nicole Jennings contributed to this report.