Pandemic updates: Covid-19 outbreaks up in King County schools
Updated news about the coronavirus pandemic in Seattle and Washington state.
As of Friday, May 6, 2022, the King County and Washington state departments of health report:
- Covid cases have risen 16% in King County over the last seven days, with a daily average of 946 new cases.
- Hospitalizations in King County have decreased by 1% in the past week, with an average of 11 people hospitalized each day.
- Covid deaths have declined by 6% over the past week in King County, with an average of one person dying each day.
- 85.1% of eligible King County residents are fully vaccinated; 72.1% of eligible Washingtonians have been fully vaccinated; 58.6% of eligible Washingtonians have received a booster shot.
- 1% death rate across Washington state since the beginning of the pandemic.
- 154 Covid cases per 100,000 people across Washington state.
FRIDAY, MAY 13
Covid wastewater data missing for nearly a month
An early-warning system for Covid outbreaks has gone dark for nearly a month in western Washington even as known cases have been spiking to some of the highest levels of the past two years.
Tracking of Covid concentrations in sewage can reveal outbreaks and viral variants before they show up in the nasal-swab tests that public health officials rely on as a key indicator of the pandemic’s severity.
A wastewater tracking website managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published some—though far from all—of that data since earlier in 2022.
But results from most western Washington locations blinked out in mid-April as the CDC’s contract with Canadian testing firm LuminUltra expired on April 15.
“It's really hard to assess transmission risk right now!” Seattle resident Philip Ries, one of several KUOW readers who noticed the data stoppage, said by email.
Sewage-testing results from 17 locations in Clark, King, and Snohomish counties have gone unpublished since mid-April. Results from six sites in eastern Washington have continued uninterrupted.
When asked why the information was no longer available, CDC spokesperson Brian Katzowitz said the agency was switching to a new testing firm for sites that weren’t being handled directly by local health authorities. He said the missing results should be back online the week of May 16.
— John Ryan
FRIDAY, APRIL 29
Covid-19 outbreaks up in King County schools
With Covid-19 cases rising once again in King County, so are outbreaks in schools.
Outbreaks in K-12 schools have been increasing in the past month, though they remain far below the peak seen during the winter surge, according to Public Health - Seattle & King County.
There have been more than 30 outbreaks since April 18, the vast majority in elementary schools.
At least one school in the Renton school district has temporarily brought back mandatory masking in response to rising cases.
Public health officials say they recommend a return to universal indoor masking when they see increasing or continued transmission while investigating a cluster of cases in schools.
“Through our investigation in coordination with the school, if we learn that more cases are being identified and that these cases are likely to have been exposed in the school setting, whether on a bus, in a classroom or during a school activity, we consider this an indication of increasing and continued transmission,” public health spokesperson Kate Cole said via email.
Cole said public health officials haven't recommended a return to masking in other school districts in recent months, but they do regularly recommend masking in smaller setting associated with outbreaks, like individual classrooms, buses, or sports teams.
As cases rise in the broader community, there’s also been a rise in cases in recent weeks in schools in the Seattle Public Schools (SPS) district, the county’s largest school district.
According to the district’s Covid-19 dashboard, there were 271 reported cases in the first week of April. The week starting on April 16 saw 549 cases reported.
The district, like others in the county, works with public health to report data and chart a course of action when outbreaks occur.
According to an SPS spokesperson, the district also has thresholds for when a return to masking or remote learning would be considered.
For instance, if the elementary student absence rate is approaching 35 percent, the district would consider switching to remote learning for up to 10 calendar days.
If 10 percent of secondary students across multiple classrooms are Covid-19 positive it could trigger a return to mandatory masking. If that number reaches 15 percent the district would consider moving to online classes for up to 10 calendar days. Masking remains optional in SPS schools at this time.
— Kate Walters
THURSDAY, APRIL 28
Parents are a step closer to a Covid-19 vaccine for youngest kids
Parents in Seattle, and across the state, are a step closer to having the first Covid-19 vaccine available for their youngest kids.
Moderna has asked the FDA to authorize its vaccine for babies, toddlers and young children – the only group currently not eligible for Covid-19 shots.
Dr. Doug Diekema, a pediatrician with Seattle Children's Hospital, said the timeline for final approval and availability of a vaccine for this youngest cohort remains murky. But he hopes something may be available in the summer.
Whenever a vaccine is finally approved, Diekema said parents should feel comfortable that it has been well vetted.
“When this vaccine is approved for children it will have a lot of really smart people who are dedicated to making sure this is the safest possible for these youngest kids who will have looked at that data and made a decision that this is not only safe, but a good idea," he said.
Diekema said there are multiple layers of review before young kids in Washington will become eligible.
According to a spokesperson for the state Department of Health, there have been 58,006 Covid-19 cases recorded in Washington since the start of the pandemic among children aged zero to four. That represents just under four percent of cases in the state.
Many parents are anxious to immunize their young children, and there’s been frustration over the prolonged timeline for making a vaccine available for kids under five.
"If I had a child under 5 in my house, I wouldn't be losing a ton sleep right now about the fact that the vaccine isn't out yet, but I would be in line once it comes out to get my kids vaccinated," Diekema said.
Diekema said it will likely be easy to get the first cohort of kids under five vaccinated once they’re eligible, but harder to reach others.
Just under a third of five-to- 11 year-olds in Washington state are fully vaccinated.
Covid-19 tends to be less severe in children compared to adults. But some children do become seriously ill, and some of them die.
Cases among children and teens are rising in Washington state but hospitalizations are decreasing, according to the most recent report from the state Department of Health.
The report states there were 16 Covid-19 deaths reported among children and teens in the state between January 1, 2021 to Apr 17, 2022.
— Kate Walters
TUESDAY, APRIL 26
UW Medicine develops 'second-generation' Covid vaccine
Researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine are boasting good news after a new Covid vaccine has shown positive results in its phase three trials.
Once again during this Covid pandemic, a new vaccine technology is making headlines. Unlike an mRNA vaccine, or other types that use an inactivated virus, this vaccine is protein based. To put it in more sciencey terms, it's a "computationally designed nanoparticle vaccine," and it's the first time such a technology has gone through phase three trials. UW Medicine calls it a "second-generation Covid-19 vaccine."
Researchers have dubbed their vaccine with the super catchy name of "GPB510." This vaccine is given in two doses, four weeks apart, similar to the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine which it was compared to during trials. However, GPB510 produced higher levels of protective antibodies in trials than the Oxford/AstraZeneca option.
The goal is to have it distributed globally through COVAX, an international vaccine effort. It will be offered royalty free for the remainder of the pandemic. The South Korean government has already agreed to purchase 10 million doses. Authorization for GPB510 is expected to be sought there within a month.
GPB510 has a few added bonuses over previous Covid vaccines. It can be effective at lower doses. It's easy to manufacture. And it doesn't need extreme-cold storage.
"By presenting the antigen in this repetitive array, you elicit a stronger immune response which translates to better protection," said Neil King, assistance professor of Biochemistry at UW Medicine.
"Compared to other vaccine modalities for SARS-COV-2, like mRNA vaccines, this particular protein nanoparticle vaccine will probably have advantages in cost of production and storage stability, meaning it may be easier to make at scale and supply in the developing world."
UW Medicine notes that it is important to reach countries with limited access to vaccines, such as low and middle income countries.
"If we want to limit the emergence of new variants, we need to make sure that everyone has access to vaccines and not only developed countries having access to multiple boosters," said David Veesler, associate professor of biochemistry at UW Medicine.
— Dyer Oxley
Vice President Harris has tested positive for Covid-19
Vice President Kamala Harris has tested positive for Covid-19, the White House announced Tuesday. Harris has exhibited no symptoms and will isolate at home.
"She has not been a close contact to the President or First Lady due to their respective recent travel schedules," the White House said. "She will follow CDC guidelines and the advice of her physicians. The Vice President will return to the White House when she tests negative."
Harris spent last week in California, and returned to Washington Monday night, so she had not met with Biden in person in recent days.
The diagnosis comes weeks after her husband, second gentleman Doug Emhoff, tested positive. And earlier this month, more than a dozen attendees of the annual Gridiron dinner — including Jamal Simmons, Harris' communications director — were known to have tested positive for Covid-19. At that time, Attorney General Merrick Garland also tested positive, as well as Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Reps. Adam Schiff and Joaquin Castro. All were guests at the dinner. Harris did not attend it.
The Covid-19 diagnosis makes Harris the highest-profile U.S. leader to contract the coronavirus since former President Donald Trump, who tested positive for Covid-19 during the final month of the 2020 presidential campaign.
Read the full story here.
— Scott Detrow, NPR
Most people in the United States, including most children, have now been infected with the coronavirus
At a briefing for reporters on Tuesday, the CDC's Dr. Kristie Clarke said so many people caught omicron over the winter that almost 60% of everyone in the U.S. now have antibodies to the virus in their blood.
That number is even higher for children — almost 75% of children 11 and younger have antibodies to the virus.
The CDC also said that cases of Covid-19 continue to rise, going up 23% last week to 44,416 a day. Deaths continue a months-long decline to 314 a day, or 13% less than the week before. Hospitalizations are on the uptick at 1,629 a day, up 7% over the previous week, according to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.
Read the full story here.
— Joe Neel, NPR
MONDAY, APRIL 25
Pierce County business fined $56k over failure to enforce masking, leaving one employee dead
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries fined a fish processing plant after the company failed to enforce indoor masking rules during a meeting last fall, leaving 16 people sick, including a person who died.
Shining Ocean Inc. has paid a $56,000 fine for allowing employees to go without masks during a Nov. 4, 2021 meeting attended by 23 people, despite state and local mask mandates being in effect at the time. The company did not have a vaccination verification process in place at the time, according to a press release published by the Department of Labor and Industries.
Officials say money collected from the fine will go into the state workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund for workers and the families of people who have died on the job.
Covid-19 cases continue to climb in King County
While Covid cases remain far lower than they were during the peak of the winter omicron surge, they’ve risen from an average of roughly 165 new cases per day in mid-March to 692 new cases per day.
As more people test at home, it’s harder to get a full picture of exactly how many new are emerging in the community.
But those that are recorded have reached levels that have pushed the county over the threshold into the CDC’s “medium” community levels category. However, officials say they're not ready to tighten Covid restrictions again.
“The CDC ‘medium’ risk category is not a magic threshold meaning the Covid-19 pandemic locally is suddenly or fundamentally different, or that we’re approaching a crisis level. But it does tell us that Covid-19 infection risk is increasing for individuals and for our community,” Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer with Public Health – Seattle & King County, said during a media briefing Monday.
The county was in the “low” community levels category for weeks as cases and hospitalizations declined sharply following the winter surge.
Duchin stressed that it’s important for community members to remember Covid is still present.
He said precautions can be taken to help lower risk, like staying up to date with all vaccines and boosters, wearing good quality and well-fitted masks, improving indoor air quality, and using rapid tests.
“We are in a much better place than we have been in the past couple of years during the early days of the outbreak with respect to the severe impacts, hospitalizations, and deaths,” Duchin said.
However, he said a lot remains to be learned about what’s known as "long Covid," and even a minor infection is worth avoiding.
Along with increasing cases, the county’s data dashboard on Monday appeared to show an increase in hospitalizations. However, Duchin said the current numbers may be inflated as staff are still going through the process of filtering cases from new admissions to weed out any cases where someone is admitted for an unrelated reason and happens to test positive for Covid while in hospital. He said Covid-19 hospitalizations have remained steady at low levels in recent weeks. Deaths in King County continue to decline.
Duchin said the county is not issuing new recommendations or restrictions at this time, citing a more steady rise in Covid cases than in previous waves, fewer hospitalizations, and an increase in the number of high-risk people who are vaccinated.
However, he said an increase in severe disease and hospitalizations could trigger the return of measures like indoor masking mandates in the future.
Covid-19 cases have been rising across Washington state, but hospitalizations statewide remain steady at low levels.
— Kate Walters