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caption: Registered nurse Tina Nguyen administers a Covid-19 test on Friday, November 20, 2020, at the International Community Health Services drive thru testing site on 8th Avenue South in Seattle's International District.
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Registered nurse Tina Nguyen administers a Covid-19 test on Friday, November 20, 2020, at the International Community Health Services drive thru testing site on 8th Avenue South in Seattle's International District.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Covid hospitalizations back up in King County amid holiday omicron surge

King County on Tuesday reported 2,920 new Covid cases. The county has seen a 213% uptick in cases — that’s 13,911 new infections — within a week.

Covid hospitalizations are also on the rise in King County after declining last week. Hospitalizations have gone up nearly 50% over the past seven days, with a daily average of 11 new hospitalizations.

Hospital capacity has remained a top concern amongst health officials, who have warned that a spike in Covid cases this winter could put significant strain on hospitals.

“We are concerned that a surge of hospitalizations from the omicron variant, on top of an already crowded set of hospitals, could lead to a situation where life-saving and hospital care is denied to those who need it,” said Taya Briley, vice president and general counsel for the Washington State Hospital Association earlier this month.

Experts have predicted that omicron will, on average, cause more mild symptoms and will lead to lower rates of hospitalization than the delta variant. However, they've also cautioned that even with lower hospitalization rates, more people overall becoming infected and in a shorter period of time could overburden health care systems.

The latest local Covid data also reveals King County has seen an average of 1,987 new cases per day within the past week, surpassing its previous record average of 1,586 daily cases.

Local health officials say the latest Covid figures likely undercount the true number of positive tests, given the prevalence of at-home testing. As it currently stands, reporting a positive result from a home test is not required. However, people with positive home test results can voluntarily report them to the Washington State Department of Health using the state's WA Notify system.

King County hasn’t publicly reported Covid positivity rates since August, citing a lag in the state health department’s reporting of negative test results. But officials say they’ve seen evidence of an increased test positivity rate in recent weeks, based on reports from individual testing sites and labs, and trends reported in other places where the omicron variant is spreading.

Officials report the county's Federal Way site is seeing the highest positivity rate of all its testing locations this week at 20%.

More Covid tests were conducted last week at county-run sites than at any other time during the pandemic, officials say. This week, several of those testing sites have closed or are operating with limited capacity due to the inclement weather.

This story has been updated to correct the latest hospitalization rate data for King County.