Diagnosed COVID-19 cases have been dropping for weeks in Washington, following record high rates of infection through the holiday season. But King County's top public health official said the decline is likely temporary.
Dr. Jeff Duchin, speaking to reporters Friday, said a more contagious strain of the coronavirus known as the B117 variant is likely quietly spreading in the Seattle area and, based on its activity elsewhere in the world, the outbreak could be doubling in size every week.
"I feel that we're in the eye of a hurricane," Duchin said. "And I want to remind everyone that we should expect the variant strain to become widespread here and that it will make our outbreak much harder for us to control."
The B117 variant, first identified in the United Kingdom, has caused other countries to re-introduce strict rules against gathering. Duchin said it has the potential to drive a new peak of infections locally, higher than even the all-time highs seen this winter.
Duchin said people might feel reassured by the declining infections, but "there is another outbreak brewing beneath the surface, of a virus that is able to move much more quickly, able to cause many more cases and many more deaths as we've seen in other countries."
He said precautions, such as wearing masks when around others, limiting indoor gatherings and improving ventilation, can slow the spread of the more contagious variant. He said residents should not gather indoors with people outside their households to watch the Super Bowl.