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caption: Covid-19 cases in Seattle have risen to levels not seen since early May. 
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Covid-19 cases in Seattle have risen to levels not seen since early May.

A spike in coronavirus cases as Seattle and King County enter Phase 2

Seattle and King County moved into Phase 2 of the state’s pandemic reopening plan on Friday despite a rising number of confirmed Covid-19 cases.

New cases the week of June 18 increased 47% over the previous week in King County, according to county health officials.

Sixty-five new cases were tracked in the county on Thursday and 76 on Friday, the highest daily counts since late May.

The spike has been sharper in Seattle than countywide: New cases have more than doubled this week in Seattle. The city had 35 positive cases on Thursday and 28 on Friday.

Seattle has not seen daily counts that high since early May.

These increases do not appear to be linked with recent protests, according to health officer Jeff Duchin with Public Health -- Seattle & King County.

Fewer than 15 people who said they attended the protests tested positive over the last two weeks.

Rather, most of these people have been exposed to the virus by someone they live with or people who are essential workers or work at long-term care facilities.

Public health officials applied for King County to enter Phase 2 on Monday. Duchin said they noticed at 10 p.m. on Thursday night that cases had jumped.

Friday morning, the Washington Department of Health announced it had approved the county's bid to loosen its coronavirus restrictions.

Several reporters asked why the county was still moving forward with reopening on a call with Duchin Friday afternoon.

"The jump from 1.5 to 2 is relatively small,” Duchin said, referring to the reopening phases. “We understood that there's risk and uncertainty any time we go forward with increasing our activities, and the need to open our economy.

Under Phase 2, small social gatherings (with no more than five people outside your household) may be held, and restaurants, retailers and other businesses can serve customers at reduced capacity and hours.

“That was a risk that we took, and we understood cases might increase as we get back to business,” he continued. “We felt that was a reasonable risk."

Duchin said the county could always move backward, but at this time he feels that moving forward is the right move, with that calculated risk that more people will get Covid-19.

"To move forward with opening safely we MUST continue to take COVID-19 precautions, Duchin tweeted. "Distancing, face masks in public, avoid close contact outside the home, increase ventilation indoors, clean hands, get tested."

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced his “Safe Start” plan for a four-phase reopening of the state’s economy on May 4.

“If infection rates and hospitalizations for Covid-related issues go up, I would not hesitate to scale these efforts back down to protect public health and save lives,” Inslee said in a press release announcing his “data-driven” plan.

Public Health -- Seattle & King County’s dashboard shows just two new Covid-19 hospitalizations in the county since June 12, though it warns that the past week’s data may be incomplete. Hospitalizations can lag a week or more behind infections.

Inslee’s announced criteria for moving into Phase 2 included “when COVID-19 disease burden is low and decreasing.”

“The metric goals for moving between phases are intended to be applied as targets, not hardline measures,” the Washington Department of Health said in its announcement approving the county’s request to move to Phase 2.

This story has been updated.