Can families still gather for spring break, Easter with new COVID variant? WA health officials weigh in

Across the country, COVID restrictions are easing, but at the same time, Washington is seeing a new surge in cases.

In King County alone, cases have doubled since mid-March.  

Taking a closer look at the numbers: King County saw a 41% spike in cases over the last seven days, which is, on average, 356 new cases every day.

But, there's a silver lining-- nearly 72% of eligible Washingtonians are fully vaccinated and close to 60% have had their booster shot.  

As the numbers rise, health experts are keeping their eyes on a new variant, BA.2. 

Professor of Global Health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, Dr. Ali Mokdad, says with each new variant, they look at vaccine escape, where your COVID shot is less effective.

He says the BA.2 variant is proving to be more infectious compared to Omicron.

"Everything is possible. Viruses keep mutating all the time and you are always at the risk of producing a new mutation," Mokdad said. "All the information we know about BA.2 is it's similar exactly to BA.1 and Omicron in terms of the response of the vaccine, and in terms of immunity from previous infections."

While some were surprised by how quickly cases are rising, others anticipated the spike. 

"I feel like we've been through that cycle a few times over of preemptively removing restrictions and seeing numbers rise, so I think I'm going to maintain the same level of discretion, small groups, small hangouts and testing when I can," said Shaquile Sinclair.

"It just puts a lot of strain when there's an illusion of freedom, it makes it harder for people to get support when things go poorly," Ann Thompson said.

Many wonder why cases are rising if such a large percentage of the population is vaccinated. 

The recurring question many of you have, why cases are rising if and when many are vaccinated.

Mokdad said it can be attributed mainly to two factors: waning immunity as many of us received our vaccine more than five months ago, and changes in behavior (most no longer wearing masks).

Still, Mokdad says the case outlook looks good.

"They go a little bit up, but they've come down and they will come down all the way to the next winter," Mokdad said.

FOX 13 asked Mokdad if these new numbers will interfere with spring break or Easter plans. Can people gather with friends, family, neighbors and anyone else who was outside their immediate household? 

"We can because we have a variant right now that's less severe compared to the previous one. [It] still poses a threat for people who are immunocompromised, but it's less severe," Dr. Mokdad said. "We can enjoy our lives. We deserve it."

It's important to note the number of deaths has decreased by 60%, with an average of one person dying each day according to the King County and Washington State Departments health report.

Health experts say we're in the endemic stage of this virus. 

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