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This is why Washington's Covid-19 rates are on the rise

Covid cases are climbing rapidly in King County and throughout Washington state. On Sunday, Governor Jay Inslee issued new restrictions to try to stem the spread.

KUOW reporter Eilis O'Neill brings us the latest.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

How bad are Covid infection rates in Washington?

It's really bad. Almost 20% of all the cases we've had in King County during the whole pandemic have been just in the past two weeks — and that's not the only figure that's striking.

The positivity rate, or the number of Covid-positive cases in proportion to Covid tests given, is also going up. From August through October, it was at about 2%; now it's 6%.

The reason that matters is that if the positivity rate is low, around 2%, that means we're identifying most of the Covid cases. But if the positivity rate starts to creep up — like closer to 6%, which is what it is right now — that means that we're not identifying every single case. There are a lot of people in our community who have Covid and don't even know it.

Where are people getting Covid?

What we do know is that you get Covid from sustained indoor contact. It's very hard to get Covid during a 20 to 30 minute trip to the grocery store, because you're just not close enough to anyone for long enough.

It's also highly unlikely you'll get Covid walking past someone briefly outdoors, say on the sidewalk, even if no one is wearing a mask and you're within six feet of each other. There's just too much air and you're not next to them for long enough.

Where people are getting Covid is at work, at social gatherings, at home — places where they're breathing the same air as someone else for 15 minutes or longer.

The state of contact tracing

Because there are so many cases right now, contact tracers are starting to get behind. All through September and October, they managed to get in touch with half of all Covid cases to interview them about where they’d been, and with whom, the same day as they got the case.

That means they got the phone number of someone who had Covid. They managed to talk to them that same day in order to start tracking down everyone they’d had contact with. Now, contact tracers are only reaching a quarter of their cases that first day. So they're constantly playing catch up.

New statewide business restrictions

The new lockdown is designed to reduce that sustained indoor exposure that's so dangerous. You can still go to restaurants, but you have to get takeout or eat outside, which is not looking super appealing at the moment. You can still go to the grocery store, but you might have to wait in line to get in because they're supposed to limit how many people are in the store at once.

Gyms, indoor fitness classes — that's all out. You can have five-person outdoor fitness classes. Religious services are a bit of an exception, they're allowed to continue, but they still have capacity limits. Also, no choirs are allowed, and the congregation is not supposed to sing. And childcare is continuing under the same guidelines as before.

Are the holidays canceled?

You're allowed to gather outdoors, with up to five people from outside your household. You would probably need some preparations for that because it's supposed to be raining every day for the next two weeks.

If you want to meet indoors with people from outside your household, you're supposed to quarantine for two weeks beforehand, or quarantine for one week and get tested for Covid within two days of the gathering. For Thanksgiving, that means if you're not going to get a Covid test, you should already have started your quarantine.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.