New vaccine mandates are coming to Snohomish County – not just to business, but to city governments, organizations, even non-profits – to any workplace that employs more than 100 people. That’s a key takeaway from the county’s Tuesday COVID briefing.
New federal guidelines already mandate vaccination at businesses of more than 100 employees. The state requires vaccinations of public school and health care workers.
County Executive Dave Somers warned reporters that he expects the Washington State Department of Labor and Industry will impose even tougher rules than the feds. In addition to covering all workplaces, he thinks the new state rules mean COVID testing will no longer be allowed as an alternative to getting vaccinated. He expects details in about a month.
Snohomish County has 2,800 employees. Latest numbers show that 70% have been vaccinated. What happens if the other 850 do not get the shots? Somers acknowledged the resistance to them, adding “we haven’t yet, but do expect to lose some people.”
He said that among staffers who continue to refuse the shots, “we continue to see just loads of misinformation, misunderstanding and fear that is driving a lot of people’s decisions,” but added that the vaccine mandate is the “path forward.”
County Chief Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters sought to clarify some confusion for people who have recovered from coronavirus. Some employers, he said, are now suggesting that workers who stayed home for 10 days after a positive test should be retested before they return. But, Spitters said, “it is not necessary; retesting those folks doesn’t change the disease control, it wastes limited resources to keep testing.” Again, that’s as long as they have quarantined for 10 days after a positive test.
A total of 367 COVID cases have been reported in county child care settings, schools and youth sports. “We’re being inundated with cases,” Spitters told reporters. An additional 2,000 Snohomish County K-12 students are now quarantined at home after they were exposed in class.
Quarantined students must still stay home for 14 days after they’ve been exposed. Spitters said with the fast-spreading delta variant, the county does not want to cut quarantine periods too short; that with 11 school districts countywide, the two-week quarantine “is what we have to do to make it work.”
“I regret the individual impact” on a school, a student or a family, he added. Spitters reminded people that the county school quarantine supersedes anything a doctor or nurse may tell families.
There is, said Spitters, a silver lining in the school COVID numbers. With 200,000 K-12 students in the county, 2,000 on quarantine is just 1% of the total. He said there may be a classroom or two that needs to be temporarily closed but he does not expect that to affect an entire school, reiterating the goal of keeping students in-person, in classrooms.
For vaccinated students/staff, the health district website says:
“If a fully vaccinated student or staff member is notified that they are a close contact, they do not need to quarantine as long as they remain well and symptom-free. They should seek testing 3-5 days after last exposure. If they develop COVID symptoms, they should report that to the school, remain home, and seek testing as soon as possible.”
Visit the Snohomish Health District website for complete details on COVID and kids.
Two-thirds of Snohomish County’s eligible residents are now fully vaccinated, with another 6% partly covered. Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood all show at least 71% are vaccinated fully. The county says new case counts (1,750 last week) are a slight drop from the previous week; the new case rate is also off the recent record highs.
But the new COVID cases continue to affect unvaccinated individuals at a higher rate, with 800 new cases per 100,000 people in those who have not received the shot compared to 200 new cases in those who have been vaccinated.
“We keep reassuring people, the vaccines are safe,” Somers concluded.
— By Bob Throndsen