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caption: Passengers wearing masks walk with luggage near an Alaska Airlines check-in area, Monday, March 1, 2021, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle.
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Passengers wearing masks walk with luggage near an Alaska Airlines check-in area, Monday, March 1, 2021, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle.
Credit: (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Covid cases up 18% in Seattle area as region reopens

Covid cases are up in King County, 18% above where they were two weeks ago.

Public health officials suspect the increase is due to people socializing more as the end of the winter surge and the availability of vaccines lead to optimism. Also, the presence of more contagious variants make all interactions riskier.

What the data show is that more outbreaks in recent weeks have been tied to restaurants, bars, and travel, King County's public health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin said in a Friday press conference.

At the same time, starting Monday, gyms, restaurants, and many other businesses in Washington state can open up to 50% capacity, and many large gatherings, such as sporting events and graduations, will be allowed.

Duchin said that he hopes people continue to take precautions and avoid indoor spaces where people are unmasked or ventilation is bad.

"The risk is not gone — the virus is still with us," he said.

"The vast majority of the population remains susceptible to Covid-19. The viruses that are currently circulating are more effective at spreading from person to person," he explained. "So I think those factors are going to drive transmission up."

Duchin said thousands of people in King County have infectious Covid right now.

"It would be a shame if many people became infected over the next month or two just as vaccines are about to become available widely to most of the population," he said.

Duchin said, thanks to vaccination, cases are down among people over 65, but they’re up among people in their 20s and 30s. He added that Covid is "not a trivial disease, even for younger adults," many of whom still have symptoms months after their diagnosis.

Editor’s note: KUOW calculated the increase in cases by comparing the number of new coronavirus cases per day (calculated as a seven-day average, to account for day-to-day variation). On March 18, the number of new cases per day was 158, an increase of 18% from March 4, when there were only 134 new cases per day.