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Coronavirus In Seattle
caption: Seattle Kraken fan Jami Lopez, right, of Bellevue, Wash., receives a Moderna coronavirus booster vaccine from health care worker Zach Hren at the arena before the Kraken's NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues, Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, in Seattle. The boosters were available to fans at the pop-up clinic at the Thursday and Friday Kraken games.
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Seattle Kraken fan Jami Lopez, right, of Bellevue, Wash., receives a Moderna coronavirus booster vaccine from health care worker Zach Hren at the arena before the Kraken's NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues, Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, in Seattle. The boosters were available to fans at the pop-up clinic at the Thursday and Friday Kraken games.
Credit: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Covid updates today: Cases fall and we wonder, are we nearing the end?

Updated news about the coronavirus pandemic in Seattle and Washington state.

According to data from King County and Washington state departments of health, as of Thursday, February 3, 2022:

  • +1,231 new cases since Thursday in King County. That's -50% over the last seven days.
  • -41 new hospitalizations (that reflects corrections made to the county's data) since Thursday in King County. That's an 18% decrease over the past seven days.
  • 20% decrease in deaths over the past two weeks, with six people dying every day in King County.
  • 78.1% of King County residents are fully vaccinated.
  • 10,845 Covid-19 related deaths across Washington state; 1% death rate since the beginning of the pandemic.

Photo slideshow by Elaine Thompson of the Associated Press of what Harborview looks like these days:

caption: Medical workers fill a hallway in the acute care unit, where about half the patients are Covid-19 positive or in quarantine after exposure, of Harborview Medical Center, Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, in Seattle. Washington. 
    Slideshow Icon 7 slides
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King County’s Covid case numbers have been falling since January…

But they’re still very high. The county is now seeing more than 2,000 a day, on average. That's about a third fewer than a month ago.

King County Public Health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin says that’s an improvement, but it’s too soon to celebrate.

“I just want to express my tremendous relief to see our case numbers falling since January 10th," Duchin said. "I really hope this decline continues. But for right now, there's still a whole lot of Covid-19 going on.”

Hospitalizations also remain high. Duchin said while the worst is behind us, there’s still a lot of uncertainty because Covid is unpredictable.

“We are making meaningful progress," Duchin said. "At the same time, we need to be realistic about where we are on this long and winding road to the post-pandemic state.”

Duchin said there’s no guarantee that future variants will be mild. And, it’s uncertain how much longer this pandemic lasts. But, he said, at least we're headed in the right direction.

—Ruby de Luna, KUOW

Americans get sicker as omicron stalls heart surgeries to cancer care

After every shift in his Seattle emergency department, Dr. Matt Beecroft comes away with some new story of how the omicron surge is making his patients sicker.

And not just from the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

Instead, it's the delays and disruptions in medical care — a consequence of overcrowded and short-staffed hospitals — that are leading to, at times, life-threatening complications.

"It can be just heartbreaking," says Beecroft, who recalls one recent patient of his who had a heart attack. "She had been scheduled for a cardiac bypass," a procedure done to improve blood flow when there's an obstructed or partially blocked artery, "but that surgery had been canceled."

Beecroft, who's affiliated with the American College of Emergency Physicians, told two other doctors about the patient. That's when it became clear to him that this was far from an isolated event: "Between the three of us, we had seen four patients who had cardiac complications from not being able to get a cardiac surgery."

There's no way to quantify how many Americans are now suffering serious, if not irreversible, harm to their health because hospitals are buckling under the weight of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. But doctors say the consequences are far-reaching, given how many procedures have been postponed.

Read more here.

—Will Stone, NPR

Over-the-counter Covid tests will soon be free for Medicare recipients

Medicare and Medicare Advantage recipients will be eligible for free over-the-counter Covid-19 tests beginning in early spring, the Biden administration announced on Thursday.

The plan will allow for up to eight tests a month, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said in a media release Thursday.

Medicare is the federal health insurance program for Americans aged 65 and older, some younger Americans with disabilities and those with certain illnesses.

"This is the first time that Medicare has covered an over-the-counter test at no cost to beneficiaries," CMS wrote in the release.

"There are a number of issues that have made it difficult to cover and pay for over-the-counter Covid-19 tests. However, given the importance of expanding access to testing, CMS has identified a pathway that will expand access to free over-the-counter testing for Medicare beneficiaries."

The Biden administration has faced criticism for its handling of certain aspects of the pandemic, including for its response to providing free, easily accessible testing for all Americans.

In response, the federal government announced that beginning earlier this year, Americans would be able to request four, free at-home tests to be delivered directly to their doors. The administration purchased a half-billion tests to support that effort.

—Alana Wise, NPR