COVID cases decline in Seattle area, surge moves east

SEATTLE (AP) — Cases of the omicron variant of COVID-19 are decreasing in the Seattle metro area, but hospital leaders are warning that the variant is gaining steam in eastern Washington and could further stress health care facilities.

In King County, data shows the rise in omicron infections peaked on Jan. 10 with 7,563 daily cases, The Seattle Times reported. Since then, the county has charted a significant decline, dropping at least 43% in the past week.

Hospitalizations in King County were also showing signs of slowing, county health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said Tuesday. COVID-19 levels in the county remain far higher than those during past pandemic waves, he said.

Taya Briley, vice president of the Washington State Hospital Association, said in a news briefing that hospitals are bracing for “the second chapter” of the omicron surge in eastern Washington and Idaho.

Briley added that Washington had about a 6% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the past week.

Some hospitals have again started receiving requests from Idaho health care facilities looking for open beds, according to Jeannie Eylar, chief nursing officer at Pullman Regional Hospital.

Officials this week for the second time during the pandemic activated crisis standards of care for much of southern Idaho’s health systems because of surging COVID-19 cases. Idaho has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

While omicron is more likely than previous variants to cause infection even in people who’ve been vaccinated, the vaccines still offer good protection against severe illness and death.