Jan 20, 2023 - News

Washington state marks three years of COVID

Illustration of a clock with virus icons for numbers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It's been three years since the first known case of COVID-19 in the U.S. was reported in Washington state. State health officials and local scientists say that while we're in a far better place than we were, COVID isn't going away.

Driving the news: The new Omicron variant, XBB.1.5 — nicknamed "Kraken" —could become the dominant strain in the state this month, according to UW Medicine.

  • Scientists say it is more transmissible and — according to a study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases — shows a profound ability to evade antibodies even after vaccination.

Why it matters: While epidemiologists say the virus is now endemic in our population, concerns for vulnerable populations remain. And beyond the health impacts, in Seattle and elsewhere, the impact of remote work and sky-high prices of the early pandemic housing boom are still keenly felt.

By the numbers: According to the most recent state data, the 7-day case rate in King County is about 80 new cases per 100,000 people. In hospitals across the state, 8% of beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients and 70% of the population has been vaccinated.

  • One year ago, the state reported a record number of infections — 15,157 new cases in one day — and COVID-19 hospitalizations at UW Medicine's four hospitals were higher than at any other point in the pandemic.

What's next: Dr. Jeff Duchin of Public Health – Seattle & King County told Axios that even though the state is in a much different place than it was three years ago, "many challenges and significant unpredictability remain."

  • Among the key issues Duchin said are being addressed by health officials are a continued effort to boost vaccination rates, secure public health funding and address the racial inequities in public health systems that led to a disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black, Hispanic, and Pacific Islander residents.

What they're saying: Dr. Pavitra Roychoudhury, the director of COVID-19 sequencing at the UW Virology Lab, told Axios that she feels "relatively optimistic."

  • "We're in a much better place in terms of immunity, whether from vaccination or a recent infection, than we were. COVID-19 is definitely not gone, but we are learning to deal with it and live with it."

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