‘Cautious optimism’ from Snohomish County as COVID-19 infection rates decline; deep county budget cuts predicted next year

Dr. Chris Spitters

The big takeaways from Tuesday’s Snohomish County COVID-19 briefing:

  • The COVID-19 infection rate is declining…. slightly
  • A new study shows which masks are more effective
  • The coronavirus means serious county budget cuts in 2021

Chief Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters started with what he calls a reason for “cautious optimism.” For the last two weeks, Spitters says, the county has seen significant declines in coronavirus infection rates.

In early August, the infection rate averaged 95 new cases per 100,000 residents. Then, it edged down to 85/100,000 people. Now, for the two weeks ending Aug 8, Spitters says the infection rate has dropped to 74 new cases for every 100,000 residents. That is still way over the county’s goal of less than 25 new cases in a two-week period.

The lower infection rates give a slight boost to school reopening plans next month. Spitters says the rate of 74 new cases is the upper limit for establishing a “safe learning” environment in classrooms; but many county districts still plan remote learning for all until months into the new term.

“There’s no easy solution here,” Spitters says, acknowledging that the final decision on school reopening is up to each district and the health rules they adopt. The county holds weekly calls with all public and private school districts to provide the latest data.

Spitters also touched on a new study from Duke University, which examines the effectiveness of different types of masks. Duke found that multi-layer cotton facemasks are still the most effective for the general public.

Face gaiter mask

The study raised questions about the effectiveness of so-called “face gaiters” or “buff” masks, which can be worn around the neck, then pulled up over mouth and nose.

Here is a link to the Duke study, which tested 14 different mask types.

County Executive Dave Somers warned the briefing that county government may face up to $26 million in budget cuts next year. Somers says the county has already laid off staff, required others to take furloughs, frozen new hires and delayed projects just to make it through this year.

But in 2021, said Somers “no one will be spared cuts in this budget environment.” Straight budget cuts, he added, could mean layoffs for another 300 people throughout all departments. He insisted his staff will do all in their power to avoid that. The county spends 75% of its budget on law enforcement and the justice system.

Somers called the county government an extremely lean operation with no fat in it and that it has still not recovered completely from the 2008 recession. But even “finding efficiencies will not be enough in this pandemic”.

He says staff has been working on the new budget, and that he will soon release it. Somers said he knows he is “not going to make anybody happy with the numbers, but that the budget will be balanced and protect our core jobs.” The impact of the coronavirus will stretch well into next year, he said.

— By Bob Throndsen

 

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