County COVID-19 briefing: As hospitalizations rise, leaders see ‘breakdown’ in people practicing prevention

County Executive Dave Somers, upper right, opens the county’s weekly COVID-19 briefing Tuesday.

We face a “hard winter ahead,” said Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers. “The pandemic is at its most dangerous right now.”

“Show restraint,” added Chief County Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters. “If more people don’t cancel their travel plans, more people will become sick or die. That’s the sober truth we’re dealing with today.”

Is anyone listening? Taking precautions? That’s the dilemma Snohomish County faces nine months in as COVID-19 continues its rapid spread.

  • The rate of new cases – 304 per 100,000 residents — is a record. In April, that rate was 25/100,000.
  • 80 patients are hospitalized now compared to 20 six weeks ago. By comparison, 120 were hospitalized last March — and Spitters said the county may surpass that in a few weeks.
  • 10% of COVID tests are now positive in the county.
  • 13,000 tests were administered just last week.

In the weekly coronavirus briefing, Spitters told reporters that “Snohomish County and our state are breaking record after record in daily case rates and hospitals are rapidly approaching where we were in March.”

Somers echoed that, saying he feels “a deep sadness because all we can do is give people the best advice we can and it’s up to each family, each member to follow it or not.” Both said the common thread in the virus surge is a “breakdown” in people taking preventive measures.

A reporter asked whether the county can crack down on people who won’t follow the masking/distancing/small gathering advice. Somers said the state and county have done that at some businesses, but that for individuals and families “it is very difficult; there’s no meaningful enforcement (we can do) at private homes.”

Providence Hospital in Everett is experiencing a surge in cases, with 14 reported recently. Spitters said his staff is working with Providence, offering technical help as well as contact tracing. The hospital, he added, has good control measures in place but with more cases happening in the community, “the chances of COVID walking in the door is now 10 times higher than it was.”

Economically, there is no additional help in the pipeline. Federal CARES Act money expires at the end of December, and that was money the county used to support small business, supplement unemployment and help meet health care shortages. “We really have no idea whether more aid will be coming,” Somers said. Congress has not acted to supply any additional money or programs.

The one bright spot in the briefing was the vaccine news. The county expects to see the first doses shipped to our area between mid and late December. Those first doses will go to health care workers, first responders, long-term care facilities and elderly who are at risk. It may be six to nine months before the vaccine is available to all, Spitters said.

Jason Biermann, the county’s director of emergency management, saidthe county started planning for vaccine distribution in August. Most will get the vaccine through normal health care support system: clinics or pharmacies. It may come in two shots spaced out. The county is working on a voucher system to get the shots to those without regular medical care, he said.

Spitters closed out the briefing with a reminder that even the vaccine “will not get us back to close to normal for many, many months to come,” and that our best hope is still the precautions we can take now.  “It isn’t just forever,” he said, “but it is for now.”

You can watch the entire briefing here.

— By Bob Throndsen

  1. How many of this 60 patient increase are the ones Providence/Swedish brought in from out of state over the last month? Also how many are people that were in the hospital for another reason, tested and found to be postive, so not actually in the hospital for Covid itself?

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