Where are people contracting COVID-19? New King County report gives clues

A new report out of King County tries to answer this question: Where are people contracting COVID-19? 

For the first time, King County health officials are releasing where people expect they were exposed to the virus in the weeks leading up to their illness. 

Throughout the pandemic, health officials have been asking COVID-positive people their activities up to two weeks before getting sick. King County health officer Dr. Jeff Duchin warned that they cannot always determine transmission with certainty, but most people trace likely exposure back to their own household, where 35 percent of cases may have been infected by someone else who was positive in the home. 

Thirty-one percent of people went to social gatherings in the two weeks prior to testing positive. Essential workers and non-healthcare workers also presented high percentages of exposure. 

By comparing data from the entire pandemic to the last two months of cases, a clearer picture emerges of what’s contributing to record spikes the county is seeing. Household exposure grows from 35 to 41 percent, while people who reported going to the community and social gatherings jumped from 31 to 39 percent. Non-healthcare workplaces also saw an increase, a sign that more people are back at a physical workplace and engaging with other people. 

Duchin said hospitalizations in King County are increasing three and four-fold every day and said positive cases doubled in about two weeks. 

“I am very concerned, even afraid of what Thanksgiving is going to do to these numbers,” he said. “I think there’s a potential to see a dramatic increase even beyond the number that we’re seeing currently in both cases, hospitalizations and subsequently, deaths.” 

The King County report also confirmed that communities of color are disproportionately affected by the spread of COVID-19. It also found that in areas with higher levels of minorities, people were more likely to catch COVID-19 at home or at work, while areas that are primarily white had higher exposure levels at social and community gatherings.