Updates on vaccines, variants, and safe reopening in King County

By: Editorial Staff Posted: 07/19/2021

COVID-19 is still in our communities

It has been weeks since Washington State fully reopened and many have returned to pre-pandemic activities. King County continues to prioritize and close equity, demographic, and geographic vaccination gaps. As of July 12, nearly 2.9 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to King County residents, and more than 1.4 million residents have completed their vaccine series.

It’s important to remember that COVID-19 is still in our communities, and more contagious variants are spreading. The best protection is to get vaccinated – nearly all cases of COVID-19 are now among those who are unvaccinated. While there have been a small number of recorded breakthrough cases for those who have been vaccinated, the benefits far outweigh the risks. Public Health – Seattle & King County continues to strongly encourage all eligible residents to get vaccinated.

Delta Variant

The highly transmissible Delta variant’s share of infections has been steadily increasing over the past several months. King County is monitoring the evolving outbreak. It's not unexpected to see COVID-19 continue to spread among unvaccinated people as activities resume and more contagious variants circulate. Vaccination remains our best tool to ensure protection – the available vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, J&J) are highly effective. Once fully vaccinated, people are protected from severe disease and death, including from the Delta variant.

Indoor settings with unmasked and unvaccinated people present a real risk for spreading COVID-19. For this reason, masks are recommended for all unvaccinated people in indoor public spaces and during certain outdoor settings with prolonged close contact. Wearing a face mask is still an option even for vaccinated people who want to further reduce their risk in certain settings or based on their individual circumstances. 

Based on the current level of cases and hospitalizations in King County, Public Health is not planning to change masking or reopening guidance at this time. If there are significant increases in cases and hospitalizations, Public Health will revisit the need for additional guidance.

Additionally, on July 8, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a joint statement on vaccine boosters, which have been frequently discussed in relation to the effectiveness in protection against variants of concern, such as Delta. The CDC and FDA have stated that a booster shot is not necessary at this time for Americans who have been fully vaccinated, and a science-based, rigorous process is currently underway to assess whether or when boosters may be necessary.

COVID-19 Vaccine Breakthrough Cases

King County and Washington state have been monitoring incidences of vaccine breakthrough cases. Vaccine breakthrough occurs when a fully vaccinated person gets sick with the disease for which they’ve been vaccinated. In the case of the COVID-19 vaccine, a breakthrough case means someone tests positive for COVID-19 after they are fully vaccinated.  

COVID-19 breakthrough cases are rare. Cases have been reported in only a small percentage of fully vaccinated individuals both in Washington and across the United States – in large part because the COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective. However, as more and more people are vaccinated, we expect to see the number of these breakthrough cases rise because no vaccine can provide 100% protection.

It’s important to note that the vast majority of the individuals experiencing a vaccine breakthrough have mild or no symptoms.

Breakthrough cases also depend on how much COVID-19 is spreading in the community – the more the disease is present, the higher the risk of COVID-19 for everyone, even though vaccinated people are at a much lower risk of getting sick than unvaccinated people are. Studies have also shown that fully vaccinated people are less likely to spread the virus to others if they do become infected.

Vaccine breakthrough can happen when:

  • People’s immunity is suppressed. After getting vaccinated, medical experts advise people with suppressed immune systems to continue wearing a good-quality and well-fitting mask, keep physically distanced from unvaccinated people, and avoid crowded indoor spaces.
  • Variants are spreading. Despite data showing COVID-19 vaccines offer very good protection against most variants of the virus spreading in the U.S. right now, certain variants may cause some of these vaccine breakthrough cases.
  • A person gets infected just before or just after vaccination. It takes two weeks for the body to build full protection after the final vaccination in their series.

Safe Reopening

For businesses or organizations engaging with customers or patrons in indoor public spaces, it is required to post signage informing those entering of the mask policy for that establishment. This signage must be posted in a prominent location at each entry. Public Health and Washington’s Department of Health have provided materials for this purpose, including when masks are required for all or just those who are not vaccinated.