County leaders promote ‘higher level of precautions’ as COVID case rates rise

Say the word COVID more than two years after the outbreak, and we think we’ve heard it all. People shake their heads, roll their eyes, sigh – “enough” – the body language can be loud and clear.

We may be done hearing about the pandemic, but — you knew there had to be a “but” — we are far from done with the coronavirus. It is, says Snohomish County Chief Health Officer,Dr. Chis Spitters, ““a time for us to be grateful for the good stretch we’ve have… but is time to raise our concerns again.”

Increase in new case rates starting in late April 2022 (Source: Snohomish Health District)

Here’s what we still face: an uptick in new case rates – from just about 100 per 100,000 people in March and early April, to a rate of 336 per 100,000 people last week. The total number of new cases jumped from just over 1,000 per week a month ago, to more than 2,800 last week. COVID patients hospitalized now occupy 5% of all hospital beds; a week ago, it was at 2%. Those developments move Snohomish County out of the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) green (or low) level of COVID infection back into the yellow (or medium) range of illness.

County Chief Health Officer Chris Spitters

Spitters and County Executive Dave Somers urge that we all return to a “higher level of precautions.” That, they insist, still means wearing masks inside stores and crowded places. “Instead of thinking masks optional,” said Spitters, think “masks strongly recommended.” It is, he added, all about learning to live with COVID, not waiting for the pandemic to be over.

He told reporters during Tuesday’s county COVID briefing that he understands the sentiment – to be done with all the precautions. But he added that we still need a call to action — “many things we have to do over and over again; paying taxes, cleaning our teeth, or responding to another surge in COVID.” Somers commented that he hopes people “will still take (our) advice. I don’t know what more to do than provide people with good information; the virus is still a threat to many, many people.”

Locally, you can find out where to be tested and where to get COVID medication now through this website from the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.

Asked about the chances of getting COVID again after you have already had it, Spitters said as time passes and your immunity from the vaccine wanes, you can get reinfected. A very small study by the CDC recently shows cases in which people infected by the delta variant subsequently were reinfected by the omicron variant shortly after their first illness. The CDC also reported that nearly 60% of adults and 75% of children have antibodies showing they’ve been infected with COVID.

Spitters says getting vaccinated is still your best defense against serious illness or hospitalization. Yet, county data show that only 55% of those adults eligible for booster shots have received them. Asked if he thought COVID shots would become a yearly event, Spitters would not predict, saying only  “I hope to see a vaccine that you get once and are protected for life, but it’s not in our hands right now.”

County Executive Dave Somers

During the briefing, County Executive Somers explained how some of the federal COVID recovery money will be targeted toward small business, entrepreneurs and creating job opportunities. The county has set aside $2 million o boost the tourism sector including agri-tourism.  And $3 million more will be used to expand the county’s “business innovation” program with financial and technical assistance for new startups. Those programs, he added, should be running by summer. For more information, click here:

That money comes from the first $80 million in federal COVID recovery grants. Another $80 million is due soon. Somers said his staff is meeting with mayors and community groups asking for ideas. The goal, he said, is to ensure “that the dollars go to increase the resilience of our communities.”

He promised more information within a couple of months.

— By Bob Throndsen

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