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Coronavirus In Seattle
caption: QFC and Fred Meyer pharmacists use hand sanitizer and exchange gloves at a free drive-thru coronavirus testing site, in partnership with the city of Seattle and the Seattle Mariners, on Wednesday, May 13, 2020, in the parking garage at T-Mobile Park in Seattle.
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QFC and Fred Meyer pharmacists use hand sanitizer and exchange gloves at a free drive-thru coronavirus testing site, in partnership with the city of Seattle and the Seattle Mariners, on Wednesday, May 13, 2020, in the parking garage at T-Mobile Park in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Pandemic updates: Covid cases down in King County, but surge continues across Washington

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 Tuesday, January 25, 2022:

  • +4,783 new cases since Monday in King County. That's -43% over the last seven days.
  • +30 new hospitalizations since Monday in King County. That's a 15% decrease over the past seven days.
  • +95% increase in deaths, with six people dying every day in King County.
  • 74.2% of King County residents are fully vaccinated.
  • 10,458 Covid-19 related deaths across Washington state; 1% death rate since the beginning of the pandemic.

Free N95 masks are arriving at pharmacies and grocery stores. Here's how to get yours

Nearly a week after the Biden administration announced it will deploy 400 million free N95 masks to the public, the high-quality face coverings are starting to arrive at pharmacies and local grocery stores.

"Every person is allowed up to 3 free masks pending availability," the Department of Health and Human Services says.

The White House launched it's latest effort to combat Covid-19 following new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC now says cloth masks are no longer as effective in preventing the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant and that people should wear a N95 or KN95 mask.

The coveted non-surgical N95 masks are coming from the Strategic National Stockpile, which has more than 750 million of them on hand. The program should be up and fully operational by early February.

Where can I get mine?

On Monday, Meijer, which operates more than 250 grocers and pharmacies throughout the Midwest, said the stores had received an estimated 3 million masks.

"The N95 masks will be in boxes set on a table near the Meijer Greeter stand of the grocery entrance," the company said. "The Greeter, who will be wearing gloves, will place the N95 masks in piles of three for the customers to take."

Kroger's stores with pharmacies will also be doling out the masks throughout the chain's Midwest and southwest locations. Spokeswoman Kristal Howard said the first allotment of masks is expected to arrive on Thursday.

Read more here.

Vanessa Romo, NPR

43% drop in King County Covid cases

The rate of new Covid cases in King County has plunged 43% this week over last.

Covid hospitalizations appear to be leveling out, too, with a slight 15% drop this week over last.

Statewide, however, hospitals continue to be pummeled with an average 94% occupancy rate.

The Omicron surge continues in eastern Washington, and Idaho. Read more about that below.

— Angela King, KUOW

National Guard helping at Washington hospitals

Hospital leaders in Washington state say the assistance they are getting from the national Guard is helping as they continue to push back against the Omicron surge.

Washington state has about 8,000 guard members, but Gov. Jay Inslee only activated 100 for relief at local hospitals.

"We've got a very small group of medical providers within the National Guard, and we realize we cannot rob Peter to pay Paul," said Guard Spokesperson Karina Shagren. "If we took a National Guard doctor out of a hospital to go work at another hospital, that's not solving anything, and so we recognize that and we're a little bit limited."

Shagren says the guard has deployed more than 2,000 members through the state over the course of the pandemic.

Members are now helping hospital staff in Everett, Seattle, and Tacoma with things like transporting patients, testing, and meals.

— Paige Browning, KUOW

Hospitals remain under strain as omicron surges in eastern Washington, Idaho

Several indicators point to the slowing spread of omicron across western Washington in recent weeks. The rate of increase for new Covid cases and hospitalizations is dropping in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties.

But the outlook is much different in eastern Washington, where omicron is still surging. Hospitalizations there have roughly doubled within two weeks.

Moreover, hospitals in eastern Washington face the prospect of caring for patients from southern Idaho, where crisis standards of care were declared on Monday.

“Any patient who comes to the emergency department must be screened and stabilized – it's a federal law requirement,” said Taya Briley, vice president and general counsel for the Washington State Hospital Association on Tuesday. “And as a result, if an individual from Idaho presents on their own to a Washington emergency department, they cannot be turned away. So we are certain that crisis standards will spread north.”

Jeannie Eylar, chief nursing officer at Pullman Regional Hospital, said her facility is already being impacted.

"Our house supervisors are getting about three to five calls a day from other hospitals in Idaho or Washington, because they're looking for a bed," Eylar said.

Hospitals in western Washington must also brace for the possibility of caring for patients outside of their localities, from the eastern side of the state, Briley said.

Read more here.

Liz Brazile, KUOW

Two cases of "stealth omicron" (BA.2) detected in Washington state

Washington's Department of Health confirmed with KOMO News that two cases of a new omicron subvariant — titled BA.2 — have been detected in Washington state.

Not as much is known about this new subvariant, but some call it "stealth omicron," because it can go undetected by some PCR tests. It can be detected through genomic sequencing.

Dr. George Diaz is an infectious disease specialist with Providence Medical Center. He commented about the new subvariant at a Tuesday morning briefing for the Washington State Hospital Association.

"It's been reported in numerous countries ..." Dr. Diaz said. "We know very little at this point in terms of the sort of outcomes and what will happen next. But at first glance, it appears that it's not causing worse disease than the original omicron variant, which I think is probably good news. But it's far too early to know if BA.2 will cause surges down the road. We just don't know that, and our state is doing sequencing. So hopefully we'll have some data about what the current rate of progression has been."

So far, BA.2 has spread through parts of Asia and Europe. About 100 cases have been detected in the United States.

Dyer Oxley & Liz Brazile, KUOW