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caption: Chase Luplow sits through a Covid-19 test administered by Tyler Gachen, a firefighter with the Enumclaw Fire Department, on Wednesday, November 18, 2020, in the parking lot of the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center along Southwest Campus Drive in Federal Way.
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Chase Luplow sits through a Covid-19 test administered by Tyler Gachen, a firefighter with the Enumclaw Fire Department, on Wednesday, November 18, 2020, in the parking lot of the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center along Southwest Campus Drive in Federal Way.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

As cases skyrocket, King County officials warn of potential Covid-19 'explosion' amid holidays

As new, statewide social distancing restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus take effect, local health officials say they're especially concerned with the status of the pandemic in King County.

The county last week saw its highest ever number of new daily Covid-19 cases, at an average of 581 new cases reported each day.

As of Thursday, King County reports more than 37,000 confirmed cases of the disease since the local outbreak was declared in late February, and approximately 840 deaths. Those cases have disproportionately been concentrated in South King County communities.

Testing for Covid-19 has increased by 22% since October, and the rate of positive cases has more than tripled since September. Most of the new Covid cases in King County — about 70% — are people ages 20 to 60 years old.

"This reinforces the fact that our outbreak continues to grow," said Dr. Jeff Duchin, a health officer with Public Health — Seattle & King County on Friday. "And as the size of the outbreak grows, the magnitude of that growth and the implications of that growth become even greater."

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Duchin added that the number of hospitalizations is also increasing at a concerning rate, citing roughly 140 Covid-related hospitalizations this week, compared to approximately 50 per week during previous weeks of November.

The status of the pandemic, locally and nationally, has raised increasing alarm, particularly as the holiday season commences and the temptation to mingle indoors becomes greater.

Health officials in Washington state have reiterated a concern that the health care system could quickly become overburdened if Covid cases continue on this rapidly surging trajectory.

Duchin also pointed to an overloaded contact tracing and outbreak investigation system — an issue that could be compounded by holiday gatherings, which officials are pleading with people to limit to members of their own housholds.

RELATED: WA Covid-19 cases reach record highs as holidays approach

“It's important for everyone to understand that restrictions on restaurants, taverns, and indoor gyms alone will not be enough to turn this outbreak around,” he said. “If people travel or gather for Thanksgiving celebrations or other get-togethers, we could see an explosion in Covid-19 causing human suffering unlike anything we've experienced in modern times."

While health experts are urging people to skip inter-household Thanksgiving celebrations altogether, they've advised that people move their festivities outdoors and with no more than five people from outside of a given household if they're going to partake.

Additionally, they say that people planning to gather across households should have began quarantining no later than Thursday (yesterday), and should get tested for Covid no more than two days prior to Thanksgiving.

"We have time to change course, but we've gone too far down this pathway for my comfort already," Duchin said.

He added that going forward, public health officials intend to prioritize contact tracing for people who are at higher risk of Covid-19 complications, and concentrate resources on congregate settings with high risk populations.