Is King County ready for phase two?
Public Health – Seattle and King County has published a new online dashboard showing where the county is on meeting various metrics needed to be eligible for reopening. The dashboard shows whether current restrictions are adequate, can be relaxed or need to be increased.
That dashboard shows the county has met more than half of the targets necessary to reopen, but the ones the county hasn’t met are critical in determining infection rates and testing capabilities.
As of May 28, it appears 25 of Washington’s 39 counties have moved on to Phase Two, of reopening, which allows for retail stores to open for in-store business, restaurants to open with 50 percent capacity, and various other non-essential businesses that don’t require large gatherings to get back to work.
King County’s goal is to reach Phase Two by June 1, but Executive Dow Constantine had some doubts about achieving that in a recent interview with NPR.
“We are not approaching the numbers — the benchmarks that are set out under the most recent state orders,” he said in the May 27 interview. “So unless the rules are going to change, which they of course could, I can’t foresee that happening.”
Those “benchmarks” Constantine mentioned include proving the “burden” of COVID-19 is low and decreasing, and that counties can show the state that their health care systems are able to handle a surge in cases, that testing is widely available, that there are contact tracing system in place, and that high-risk populations are extra protected, according to the May 5 “Safe Start Washington” plan.
The new dashboard sums it up to three main indicators: COVID-19 activity, testing capacity, and healthcare system readiness. Then it’s broken down by eight questions and whether King County meets the target on them.
The indicators on the new dashboard also reflect activities from one to three weeks ago, according to Public Health, in order to account for the time lag between infection of a person and when they actually fall ill. Decisions made a couple weeks ago account for the number of cases today.
Under current CDC guidelines, King County needs to show 14 consecutive days of decreasing cases or that it’s experiencing a “low-incidence plateau,” — less than 10 positive cases per 100,000 people per day. Although reported cases have been decreasing on average, the county has not experienced anywhere near two weeks of continually-falling case numbers.
As of May 27, the county has not met its goal of seeing less than 10 positive cases per 100,000 people per day; in fact, it was experiencing nearly triple that.
As for testing, the county’s goal is to test at least 50 people for each positive result, and to meet that goal for seven consecutive days. Currently, King County is able to test 41 people for each positive test. The county also wants to shrink the number of days between the onset of symptoms and a COVID-19 test, with the goal of less than two days. Currently, it is taking the county a median of four days between symptoms and testing.
While the county isn’t meeting those metrics, it has reached others.
The county wants to see the the “reproductive number”, or how many people one person will infect, shrink below one. Currently, the county estimates 0.6 people are being infected for every one person with the virus.
The rate of hospitalization and death, for example, have fallen below target rates and appear well on their way to do so for 14 days in a row.
The county has also met its occupied hospital bed goals, with only 71 percent of the total number of beds in the state being occupied (the county was shooting for less than 80 percent.) King County is also showing only 5 percent of hospital beds are being occupied by COVID-19 patients (their goal was 10 percent or less).
In a press release, Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin stated that for King County to get to phase two of the reopening, residents need to continue to avoid close contact with one another, use cloth face masks in public and frequently wash hands and disinfect services. This with COVID-19 symptoms should also ask their health care provider for a test right away.