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As nation marks sad 500,000 milestone, a look at the deadly COVID-19 numbers in Seattle and King County

The New York Times illustrated the nation’s death toll in response to crossing the 500,000 milestone

President Joe Biden has ordered flags to half staff this week as the nation marks 500,000 COVID-19 deaths — a milestone predicted by only the most pessimistic forecasts in the early weeks of the crisis. Meanwhile, Seattle and King County are approaching the one year anniversary of what would quickly grow into a global pandemic — on February 28th, 2020, the Washington State Department of Health made a Friday night announcement about the first “presumptive positive” case of COVID-19 in King County.

Here, the county reports 1,357 people have died including 16 across Capitol Hill and the Central District.

King County’s data and reports on deaths (PDF) illustrate the painful truths of the pandemic: COVID-19 strikes at the weakest corners of society’s fabric.

Across Seattle and King County, more than 90% of those who have died here were age 60 or older. Nine out of ten had “underlying medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, chronic lung disease, or immunosuppression.”

And illness and death has disproportionately struck communities of color. Most of those who have died of COVID-19 in King County have been white but that is because white people are disproportionately represented in the county’s elderly population. When adjusting the rate of death for age, a stark divide emerges with communities including Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and Hispanic/Latinx hugely overrepresented in the sad totals:

In 2020, King County joined most of the rest of the world in becoming a deadlier place. Overall, the death rate here jumped 12% according to this Public Health report (PDF).

But officials say factors like “isolation, economic recession, changes in access to care, and effects on mental and physical health” played a major role in addition to COVID-19 in driving the death rate higher — and this, too, was felt disproportionately throughout communities:

The increase in deaths in King County residents in 2020 is not due solely to COVD-19 and the burden of increased deaths has not been borne equally across our communities. This unequal burden may reflect inequitable distribution of risk and protective factors, delayed medical care, economic hardship, or emotional distress. PHSKC will continue to monitor the patterns in leading causes of death and outcomes potentially associated with COVID-19 mitigation measures and partner towards the improvement of outcomes and reduction of inequities.

Closest to home, 16 people have died across the three ZIP Codes covering most of Capitol Hill and the Central District. Northwestern Hill’s 98102 has seen only two deaths. Three people were reported to have died of COVID-19 in 98112. And eleven are dead so far in the southern area of 98122.

While the COVID-19 death toll continues to climb, there is hope we won’t again see the terrible totals of around 92 deaths per week that King County went through in early April though we nearly hit the mark again from November into the New Year.

Now, the pandemic has slowed to rates last seen in early fall and officials say there is progress reaching vulnerable communities in the first phase of the state’s vaccination plan. The massive challenge of the Washington’s “future phases” that will include a wider swath of the state’s population comes next.

The goal is for Seattle to reach a 70% vaccination level for its population that officials say will allow the area to successfully emerge from the crisis and, hopefully, put these sad milestones behind us while we, hopefully, work to address the inequities they laid bare.

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