Snohomish County COVID briefing: Cases near all-time high, vaccination rate stalls

COVID is “something we are going to have to learn to live with.” But how we learn to live with it still sparks debate. That’s a key takeaway from Snohomish County’s latest COVID-19 briefing. As of this week, the state has now mandated wearing masks in all outdoor venues of 500 or more people, including festivals, fairs and sporting events, but enforcing it raises more questions.

Numbers do not always tell the story; but the county’s COVID case numbers show the coronavirus still ripping through our communities:

  • 2,062 new cases last week — near an all-time high
  • Two-week new case rate of 469 per 100,000 residents — highest rate in the pandemic
  • 109 hospitalized COVID patients
  • 20,000 COVID tests last week
  • 57% of eligible residents fully vaccinated

Data from Everett’s Providence Hospital shows that 72 of the 75 COVID-positive people admitted there in the last month were unvaccinated.

Dr. Chris Spitters

Vaccination rates have stalled, averaging 5,000-6,000 a week. At that rate, it would take almost a year to inoculate the remaining 200,000 eligible adults, Snohomish County Chief Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters told reporters. County Executive Dave Somers had internet problems and was unable to join the Zoom briefing.

Asked what he would say if vaccination rates do continue to stagnate and people argue that COVID is just part of life, Spitters agreed that it’s not going away permanently at any time in the future. But he warned that even if COVID becomes a seasonal illness like other viruses, “it’s not going to be mild like those”; to achieve a new sense of normalcy, vaccine must be a key part of that.”

To those who have had COVID and feel they are naturally immune now and don’t want to be vaccinated, Spitters said simply “get vaccinated.” The durability of their immunity after COVID, added Spitters, seems to be limited. He pointed to what he called a clear recommendation from the CDC “to get vaccinated whether you’ve had COVID or not.” To people who contend they don’t need the vaccine if they are fit and healthy, Spitters was blunt: “Get vaccinated. I apologize for the curtness but not for the message.”

Spitters acknowledged that even some colleagues don’t think people are getting the message of how serious the situation still isl. One measure of that, he said, is that society must think about the impact we are having on the health care workforce; “the people taking care of us are tired, worn out. There’s not a ‘thank you’ sign that can do as much as getting vaccinated.”

However, when asked if Snohomish Health District staff were fully vaccinated, Spitters told reporters he did not know, that it was “kind of a personal decision,” that he thought the number of those who’ve been immunized was “kinda high.” But since the health district has more than 100 employees, it will now have to meet new federal rules that require vaccinations or weekly tests for employers with more than 100 workers.

Spitters was also quizzed on his reaction to the idea of requiring “COVID passports” to enter businesses or events. He pointed out that such passports might keep out some unvaccinated people and reduce the spread of the virus. But he pointed to the potential tough economic impact on smaller businesses that might not have enough staff to monitor that and said there is no evidence that requiring such passports would raise vaccination rates.

COVID reports on school outbreaks are now starting to trickle in. So far, so good. The county says 74 schools report one or more cases; but only five schools show two or more cases. Twelve of those new cases can be traced to student athletes. Questioned about what could trigger a return to remote learning, Spitters said there is no current state guidance on that. He said that schools should be the last to be pulled out of action and the first to be reopened. He added that there is no new information on when children under 12 might get the shots; that it might happen around the end of the year.

The Washington State Department of Health offers a Parent and Teacher toolbox to help smooth the transition back to class for all students. You can find that here.

— By Bob Throndsen

 

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