County COVID briefing: Officials expect a third to half of population will get omicron

“Everyone should assume they are going to be exposed.”

— Dave Somers, Snohomish County Executive

  “A third to a half (of the population getting omicron) is about right.”

— Dr. Chris Spitters, Snohomish County Chief Health Officer

“The health care system has never been in more jeopardy than we are right now.”

— Dr. Spitters

Throughout Snohomish County – and the state — COVID-19 cases are at an all-time high.

To help control the spread, the county has ordered 150,000 home test kits and the Snohomish Health District has ordered an additional 100,000 home kits. It will take three to four weeks to get them; the distribution details are still to be worked out. The county will also set up an indoor mass vaccine site with more information to come by the end of the month. All of these efforts to help get access to tests, vaccinations and care as people need it to combat the most contagious omicron variant.

Graphs don’t always tell the story; this week, they do.

COVID-19 cases reported in Snohomish County by date (updated weekly)


Weekly cases –  January, 2021 – January, 2022 – Snohomish County Health District

January – one year ago – fewer than 2,000 cases were reported.  Last week, there were nearly 11,000 cases.

 Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) current case projections

The latest COVID forecast shows a huge spike in projected cases starting now and not dropping to “normal” levels until mid-April. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, based at the University of Washington, is highly regarded in the study of COVID cases and worldwide disease forecasting.

Dr. Chris Spitters, the county’s Chief Health Officer, believes that in just the last few weeks, 8-10% of residents here got the omicron variant. He told reporters at the county COVID briefing Tuesday that “the worst is ahead, not too far off.”

The surge is reflected in the number of hospitalizations throughout the county  — 157 now — with 15 patients on ventilators. That’s more, said Spitters, than the highest previous peak of a year ago. Providence Medical Center in Everett is seeing five times as many COVID patients now than they did before Christmas.

Dr. Jay Cook, Chief Medical Officer, Providence Everett

Over 90% of those hospitalized patients are not vaccinated, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jay Cook told the briefing. And Cook agreed that it is “a reasonable expectation” that half the people in the county could get omicron COVID. The hospital has set up – again – an emergency command center to coordinate care, supplies and staffing. Omicron cases have hit the staff, and the hospital has temporarily assigned operating room personnel to help handle the COVID load.  They are available because two weeks ago, Providence halted all non-essential surgery.

The Edmonds School District just alerted parents to the possibility of going back to remote learning temporarily to combat rising coronavirus cases. Staff would have one day to prepare. It is also postponing concerts, performances and in-person meetings. There is a “severe” shortage of bus drivers and that will mean changes in routes, pick-ups, and drop-offs. You can read more, including a reminder of district COVID protocols, here.

Dr. Chris Spitters

Spitters said the county will do whatever it can to support schools that decide to go to hybrid or remote learning; that decision, he reminded reporters, is up to each district.

Spitters again suggested that cloth masks are not as effective at blocking omicron; that people should upgrade to the N95 or KN95 masks or double up and wear a hospital surgical-type mask with a cloth mask on top of it.

All three officials repeated – as they have for months – that getting vaccinated, masking up and keeping social distances are the best ways to try to control COVID’s spread. “Everything you do to reduce exposures,” said County Executive Dave Somers, “reduces the risk.”

Asked if more, new COVID variants are out there, Providence Hospital’s Cook was quick to respond. “We know that there are other variants out there… that’s just how viruses work,” he said, adding that “the key to prevent hospitalization and death are vaccines and boosters; they are single best tool we have to curb the pandemic.”

— By Bob Throndsen



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